First day back: Elementary students head to class in Rochester

Hybrid model for younger grades mixes in-school classes with online learning.
Andrea Burdick gives her boys Charlie, kindergarten, and Grady, 4th grade, goodbye kisses after dropping them off for their first day of school at Gibbs Elementary Wednesday morning. Children arrive at George Gibbs Elementary School for the first day of class Wednesday, September 2, 2020. Less than half of the student body attends on alternating days and all students and faculty wear masks as precautions against the spread of COVID-19.(Ken Klotzbach /

Moments before her boys walked inside for their first day of class at Gibbs Elementary School, Andrea Burdick pulled her son’s mask down to give him a kiss goodbye.

The Burdick family was just one of dozens taking pictures, sharing hugs and saying goodbye on Wednesday morning as students started the school year. While secondary students in Rochester are still using the distance learning model, elementary students are able to go to class on a part-time basis under a hybrid model.

“Really, we’re trying to replicate a regular school year,” George Gibbs Elementary Principal Mark Randall said. “It’s just going to look different, but it’s the same curriculum; it’s the same content we’re going to be teaching. The delivery is just going to look a little different.”

At Gibbs, about 300 students will be at the school part of the time, and another 300 will be there the other days. When they aren't at school, students will be learning online. Roughly 200 students at the school have opted for full-time distance learning.

Some students arived Wednesday by bus; some rode with their parents; one student roared up to the school on the back of a motorcycle with his backpack strapped down to the rack behind him.


Unlike any previous year, students were sporting face masks as a precaution against COVID-19. Elise Olsen was walking into first grade with a white face mask decorated with pink flowers. Her brother, Charlie, said their grandmother made their masks for them.

For their first-day pictures, some of the masks were up. Others took them off for the camera.

In spite of the mask requirement and that students can only be in the classroom part of the time, Charlie Burdick was excited to start his kindergarten year. As the youngest of four, he’d been waiting for his turn for a while.

“(He) can’t hardly wait to go to school,” said his mom, Andrea.

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or
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