RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond Public Schools held its first of a series event Saturday to help its families and students return to in-person learning for the upcoming school year.
“This is the goal to get families engaged early to get them thinking about what reopening is going to look like. To be able to let them know that we're here. We support them, whatever they need — providing resources, answer any questions, and to get from behind the screens,” said RPS School Board Ninth District Representative Nicole Jones.
Saturday’s event, called SummerFest was held outside MLK Jr. Middle School and featured dozens of tents and volunteers from RPS and their partners agencies. It is a part of the school system’s “Reopen With Love 2.0” campaign after the previous school year was predominantly virtual.
Latonya Waller, the principal at Boushall Middle School said that what she has missed most from that year was being able to interact with who she called her scholars.
"If you're an educator you get your energy from your students. You get your energy from having them in your classrooms, from being in the hallways, in the cafeterias, just all of those great interactions," added Waller.
She said she and her teachers have been planning throughout the summer on how to help students back into in-person learning.
"We're going to make sure that we address the learning loss that we know that has occurred over the pandemic. And just, again, making sure that not only our scholars, but their families also feel very comfortable," said Waller. "We've had a number of initiatives where we're doing school walks in the community to make sure that families are aware of the things that they're going to have, our scholars are going to be prepped and ready with planners and just a ton of information to know that we're ready for them."
COVID-19 and the emerging Delta variant were also among the preparations mentioned.
Corey Lynch, a father of a rising fourth-grader at Mary Munford Elementary School, said he is tentatively planning to send his son back to in-person learning in the fall, but is monitoring what is happening with the virus.
"Still trying to make the decision. I know the new variant, I know [my son] can't get a vaccine because he's so young. I'm not quite 100% on it, to be honest," said Lynch.
Lynch said he supported RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras' decision to make masks mandatory for everyone regardless of their vaccination status. Kamras announced the decision the same day Virginia officials announced they would leave it up to each school district to determine what COVID-19 precautions to have in place -- including masks. Kamras' choice went further than the recommendations from the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Department of Education, but are in line with the recommendations made by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Jones also voiced her support for the decision.
"We know that COVID still exists and so that will be just the challenge of just making sure we keep everyone safe, that we're following protocol," added Jones. "We know wholeheartedly that our superintendent wants to keep our young people safe by any means necessary. And so, in order to do that, you start with caution. You don't just jump out and say 'Oh, we're going to do this.' You start with precautions and then you make adjustments as you progress."
RPS will hold another SummerFest event next Saturday, July 31 at the Broad Rock Sports Complex from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.
They will also hold an "RPS Love Parade" on August 21. More details about that event will be released in the future.