The peal of the bell atop the tower at Brookdale Elementary School in Naperville reverberated through the neighborhood on the first day of school Thursday as it has for more than two decades in Indian Prairie District 204.

Minutes earlier teachers and staff formed a social-distanced conga line outside the main entrance, dancing to uplifting tunes in celebration of the annual tradition.

Despite all the energy, excitement and enthusiasm, one thing was missing: students. They apparently were anxiously waiting for their teachers to invite them into the virtual classrooms.

“I just talked to fourth-grade teachers. They already have kids waiting in the waiting room to get online this morning, which is wonderful,” said Superintendent Adrian Talley, who was standing outside Brookdale 45 minutes before school was to start remotely.

Talley said whether students are in person or not, the most important thing about the first days of school is building relationships. Without connections, he said, there is no learning.

“Children and families must know you care about them, and then the learning will take place,” he said. “It’s about getting to know the children in your classroom so that you can understand who they are as people and individuals.”

It’s the same with staff, Talley said. “You have to build a relationship with staff so they are able to work with you, follow you, lead you. All of that is important,” he said.

He’s spent time since he started his job in July meeting one-on-one with every principal, Talley said, which has also given him the opportunity to see all the schools. The extended conversations have help build relationships, he said.

In addition, he plans to continue to make connections with parent groups, such as the Indian Prairie Parents’ Council and Parent Diversity Advisory Council, he said. “If this were not COVID, obviously I would be doing a lot more,” he added.

On the first day of school, Talley said he was encouraging teachers to “take a breath. Take a deep breath. Enjoy the first day. It only happens once.”

Picture Source: Suzanne Baker / Naperville Sun

SOURCE ( Suzanne Baker / Chicago Tribune )