CRANSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Back-to-school season means getting back into your routine, and in Cranston, Superintendent Jeannine Nota-Masse hopes that routine will look more like it did before the pandemic.

“I hope that it’s a return to some of our normal procedures and practices that we haven’t been able to have for the past couple of years,” Nota-Masse told 12 News.

She said while virtual learning served a purpose, nothing can replace students being in school with their teachers and peers. Whether it’s in the classroom or at lunch, that social interaction is something she says students can look forward to heading into this school year.

Even though a lot of COVID protocols — spacing, social distancing and masking — are no longer in place, the impact that the pandemic has had on children, families and teachers still remains.

“We really need to pay attention to students’ emotional wellbeing, as well as staff. A lot of our staff and families experienced hardship through COVID, so now that we’re coming in as normal as possible, we also need to be cognizant that going forward, students have lost some learning opportunities along the way, especially if they were home,” Nota-Masse said. “So really paying attention to moving forward but being very aware that some students need some extra help.”

Note-Masse says they’re also focused on transforming the way students learn in the classroom, and at Eden Park Elementary school, that goal is on full display.

The school is in the middle of a two-phase project, with Phase 1 completed in 2019 and Phase 2 currently underway.

The renovated portion of the building is almost futuristic — you can write on the walls and floors, sit on chairs that wiggle or look like moss-covered rocks, and arrange the furniture however you want.

It’s part of the district’s innovative approach to make students more comfortable, and Nota-Masse says it has helped reduce behavior issues and kept students more engaged. It will serve as a model for how other schools will be renovated and designed.

“Some of our schools were built in the 20s and 50s Students don’t learn the same way, clearly,” Nota-Masse said. “Our next building, currently underway, is Garden City. We’ve used what we’ve learned here, student experience here, to determine what Garden City will be like for our students.”

Get Back to School Ready with 12 News This Morning starting at 6 a.m. on weekdays for continuing coverage and information that will help students, parents and teachers this academic year.