Elementary return to learning

The Clover Park School district is beginning to return to in person learning for the first time since last March.  The district has started returning elementary students, with middle and high school returning in March.  We were able to talk to some teachers who have students back, and here is what they said. 

At Four Heroes, PE teacher Sam Fitzgerald says, “Students seem to be happy to be back as do staff. Of course this is an adjustment for everyone compared with the last 10 or so months. For some kids and adults it’s easier and for others, more challenging. It appears that students are responding well to the requirements for distancing and masking. At the elementary level we spend a lot of time teaching how to move from one place to another, so in that way it’s similar to pre-COVID even if the actual procedure is different. Students do seem to be happy at school which isn’t surprising because it’s a place where they are cared for and receive attention. They are also seeing their peers (and teachers) in person, which as you know, is a big change. This is most profound for our youngest students, kindergarten in particular. Right now we’re all learning how to be back in school, how to adjust, how to teach and learn under these circumstances. The students are resilient and all the adults at our school are doing the stellar job we always do to help our students be their best.” 

Wayne Osborne, a librarian at Hillside elementary school says, I’m the Librarian at Hillside Elementary. Here are some of my thoughts regarding our current return to learning. I’d say that all of our teachers are very excited to see our students in person.  

This pandemic has been hard on everyone, and it’s especially been difficult for teachers and students alike. We love the connections we make with our students, and it’s pretty difficult to make and maintain those connections in an online only delivery model. I am very excited that our students are returning to school. 

Even though it’s only two days a week, we will take it. That is better than zero days a week. The energy that the students bring to our school is amazing. I’ve been at Hillside in person since the beginning of the school year, and it has been like a ghost town until two weeks ago when students have started to come back. 

Yes, it’s certainly difficult and different, but this won’t last forever. Things will be far from normal for the rest of this school year, as about 25% of our students have opted to stay virtual, while the in person students are only attending twice a week. Since I see each class every four days, but classes are split into two groups, I’ll only meet with each class nine times between now and the end of the school year. 

There are a few unique challenges that I need to navigate as a school librarian during these unprecedented times. As a librarian, I’m checking out library books to students who put them on hold in their Destiny Library Accounts. Students then need to pick them up when they are at school or when they get their lunches. When the books are returned, then they are placed in quarantine for five days. We are running the Battle of the Books in a totally online format this year, which will be challenging and different. 

All in all, I’m just taking things one week at a time. I’m glad that students are returning, and I’m also sad that all students have been unable to experience lots of the traditional activities that make up the school year. We will all get through this by staying positive. Hopefully this will be the last pandemic we will have to deal with! 

Joeseph Keeton, a Kindergarten teacher at Lake Louise says, The students have coped rather well. Most of them are very excited to be back.  It has been a rougher for students who have had to switch teachers to remain online. It’s obviously easier for other students who handle change better, but overall, it has been well received. 

I don’t believe COVID had any lasting impact on a child’s attention span, I think the experience is different than being on a tablet/computer and I am personally seeing increased engagement for students who require a more tactile response. 

Students talked during breaks, told jokes and had fun, but now they have an increased opportunity for a different interaction, more engaged with each other as they can speak face to face (sort of). 

It is much easier being in person. Having to rely on families to pick up materials from school, students to not spill on them, or rip them, etc. was hard. Far too often students ruined pages and didn’t get to do work, just listen and try to learn. It’s far easier to have copies ready and to be able to help control them all together so materials/papers don’t get ruined. When we have a little more control and routine with the students, they are much more likely to not only take care of their materials, but to complete the work. 

I think it depends on the teacher. Much like the students, some teachers handle change well and some don’t. With such a rush into hybrid and very little time to prepare, many teachers are stressed. Especially in the K and 1 grades since this current cohort of first graders haven’t been in a full year of school, and these new kinders (some who have never been to preschool or a formal education setting) this is completely new to them and it’s hard to jump into curriculum and school rules when they are adjusting being around so many more kids. 

The students are MUCH happier in most cases. Many students are thriving in person when they were struggling online. Although some students are experiencing a culture shock. Such as being in a class full of students, having to listen to rules and routines, etc. 

I’m more worried about them adjusting socially first, as they will easily pick up the material as the year goes on, at this age it’s much easier compared to middle or high school. Currently the students are about 70/30 with passing or understanding the material vs not. 

They were for the most part retaining online as well, but the ones who struggled online seem to be having greater retention now that they are having long and explicit instruction. 

Even at 5 years old, students aren’t resisting the rules of distancing and masks. They understand the dangers and the why we have to do it, and distancing can be difficult but it gets done when it needs to. 

Overall, the kids seem to be enjoying their return to school, and social interaction in general. They are all following the social distancing rules, as well as the mask rules throughout their days. The adjustment back from online to in person is challenging, but these teachers are seeing progress.