Even during a pandemic, some things never change.
On Wednesday morning at Moran Prairie Elementary School, no mask could hide the emotions of kindergartners and parents on the first day of school.
Technically that was three weeks ago when Spokane Public Schools opened the year with distance learning only.
But sitting in front of a laptop isn’t the same as taking your child by the hand and walking him toward a new adventure.
In a scene repeated at all 34 elementary schools in the Spokane school district, Stephanie Sudhop escorted her son Brandon from the parking lot to the front sidewalk, where Principal Michael Crabtree warmly greeted the young students and pointed them toward staffers giving out refreshments.
As they walked toward a side entrance, Sudhop acknowledged that distance learning was tolerable, but she expects that “this will be better.”
“It will be good for him to be with kids his own age,” Sudhop said.
Standing a good 6 feet away, Ivana Vukicevic and her husband Sasha walked on either side of their son Danilo, who was smiling beneath his mask.
Ivana Vukicevic allowed that distance learning was working reasonably well – “a lot better than back in March,” she said – but both parents wanted more.
“This is the age where they’re learning to socialize,” Sasha said. “And it’s really hard for kids his age to follow the curriculum in the online classes.”
While families huddled outside, teachers were nervous and excited.
Debby Smith has taught kindergarten at Moran Prairie for 20 years, but never like this.
Three weeks of distance learning brought on migraines. The transition meant 14-hour days of classroom prep as Smith attended to details she’d never considered .
As a special touch, she gave students the option of decorating their desk as a car or a castle.
“I am nervous,” Smith said. “But I’m excited to meet the kids.”
“If we all play by the rules and make sure the kids aren’t coming in sick, then we’ll be fine,” Smith said. “But if we’re coming in with even the slightest cold or fever, then I’m worried.”
Social distancing won’t be a problem in Smith’s classroom. To start, she’ll have half her class – 10 students on alternate days – but her 900-square-foot class can accommodate about 21 and still meet state guidelines, according to associate superintendent Mark Anderson.
That’s important, because all kindergartners are scheduled to return on Oct. 19.
Moran Prairie, built in 1989, is one of 19 nearly identical “Rainbow” schools, which means that a majority of classes can accommodate at least 21 students. Classrooms are even larger in buildings constructed recently.
Confident that she can maintain social distancing, Smith points to the gallon-size jug of hand sanitizer on a countertop.
“That’s the first thing we’ll do – wash hands or use sanitizer,” Smith said. “Then we’ll show them where the bathroom is.”
Outside, staffers were telling parents that it was almost time to send their little ones into the building; clearly they’d done this before.
That was the signal for mom Lindsey Alice to get down on her knees and kiss her daughter Emme. Tears welled from the eyes of both.
Then it was time to say goodbye.
“I’m not going to worry,” Alice said. “She’ll be OK.”
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