It won't be long until students start setting their alarm clocks and boarding the bus to school. For Waterbury Public Schools, class resumes Tuesday, Aug. 30.
"We're in much better shape this year than we were even at the end of last year," said Superintendent Dr. Verna Ruffin.
A challenge in the last school year was transportation with districts across the state dealing with bus driver shortages. Ruffin said Waterbury ended the last school year with 106 bus drivers. It now has 111 with more than 10 drivers in training.
"It's really an impactful job, and like I said, you're a big part of that child's day," said Steve Gardner, general manager of All-Star Transportation.
Gardner's company serves students in special education programs in more than 40 towns. Having been a bus driver himself, he said his bus service goes right to students' doors.
While Waterbury is well-staffed with bus drivers, surrounding towns need more.
"We could use another 50 to 75 drivers as some cushion. But right now, we currently have 75 in training, which is the most we've had in training since before COVID," Gardner said.
Meanwhile, there is a great need for educators in Waterbury.
"Anywhere from teachers to paraprofessionals, we have a huge void, and a number of vacancies that still exist," Ruffin said.
To bridge this gap, Waterbury Public Schools are offering alternative certification. Those who have degrees, but no teaching certification will be able to access training at no cost. They also plan to pay teachers interested in going back to school to earn micro credentials or take advance classes.
Those interested in taking their paraprofessional test and applying for a position can do so at the Waterbury Career Academy on Saturday, Aug. 20 at 9 a.m.
The school year will be met with new opportunities for Waterbury students as well. One is a virtual academy for ninth through twelfth graders to expand in-person learning, not replace it. During the year, they'll also have access to a robust tutoring and support service.
"Kind of an agent for each student. That's not only for math and science and social studies and language arts, but that's also in the social emotional area," Ruffin said.
A special education teacher from Waterbury who teaches in New Britain said the pandemic shined a light on mental health. Before the year starts back up, she's taking this time to get herself ready.
"I've definitely gotten more COVID tests to prep. I make sure I'm up on my vaccinations, my booster. And really just try to mentally prepare," Jacqueline Davis said.
A mother who was visiting family in Connecticut Thursday is also preparing for the start of school in less than two weeks.
"It was mixed emotions for the last year. But after seeing the precautions that school has been taking, it's very validating to know that they're putting our kids first," said Cherish Sherman of Tampa, Florida.
Waterbury Public Schools will continue full-time, in-person learning as well as optional masking and vaccines.