This month marks an entire year since Arizona schools first closed their doors, and educational organizations are still trying to find their way through COVID-19 restrictions.

Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order on Wednesday that ordered schools to return to in-person learning by March 15. This comes just one year after the statewide school closure with original dates that were supposed to last from March 16 through March 27, 2020.

Phoenix Christian Preparatory School reopened on August 20, 2020, with students in-person and some still remaining virtual.

When the school first went virtual in the spring 2020 semester, it held a drive-through curriculum and technology pick-up. Jeff Blake, superintendent of Phoenix Christian, said that someone stepped up and loaned the school laptops.

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“One of the high points when the families and kids were going through the pick-up line was a lot of tearful faces, kids saying ‘I never thought I’d miss school. I want to get back so badly,’” Blake said. “The teachers were amazing. They were masked, gloved, they engaged with kids, prayed with kids and really had that personal connection from a distance.”

He said the school takes temperatures every morning, asks students how they are doing and makes sure everyone is wearing masks.

“We no longer take for granted the sacred opportunity for us to meet physically,” Blake said.

He said that one of their goals this year is to get kids re-oriented back into a strong work ethic and to help those who have lost ground by providing them with individualized instruction.

McKinsey & Company reported a learning loss that is now evident in students, a loss that is particularly affecting more minorities.

“Some call it a loss of learning but it’s really a loss of instruction time,” said Terri Clark, the Arizona Literacy Director for Read On Arizona. “They didn’t have a chance to learn something so you can’t lose something that you haven’t had a chance to learn in the first place.”

Read On Arizona is the state’s early literacy initiative and operates through a collaboration of agencies and organizations.

“We recognized with students not being continually in the classroom, a lot of our youngest students didn’t have access to books which is sort of something that we take for granted, but a lot of them don’t have home libraries or access,” Clark said.

Read On Arizona applied for a book grant through the Molina Foundation in California which allowed it to give books to families most impacted by COVID. The foundation served more than 60,000 families and distributed about 120,000 books and magazines.

Despite the shutdowns, health continues to remain a top priority among schools and organizations.

“Now as we’re about a year into it, we’re advocating for making sure that schools follow science, in particular the current CDC guidelines to make sure that it’s safe for students and teachers to return to a learning environment, but to make sure that schools are taking the proper precautions to do it right,” said David Lujan, the President and CEO of Children’s Action Alliance. 

CAA has advocated for better policies for Arizona children and families for more than 30 years.

Lujan said that the teachers he works with want more than anything to go back to in-person learning and the students want the same, it’s all just a matter of doing so in the safest way.

“If you have to balance being healthy or the virtual learning, which is not ideal, I think you have to go with the virtual learning until it’s healthy to go back to in-person,” Lujan said.

Maricopa County offers a map on its website with COVID statistics and guidance for schools in different zip codes. All areas in Phoenix remain with a transmission level of substantial.