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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  K-12 education

After last year’s distance-learning decision, Wednesday was the first day for one of Spokane’s biggest kindergarten classes

UPDATED: Thu., Sept. 9, 2021

Lincoln Heights Elementary School kindergarten teacher Rylee Wittmeyer, right, greets new student Eleanor Horrocks and her mother, Alesha, on the first day of class on Wednesday.  (Dan Pelle/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Lincoln Heights Elementary School kindergarten teacher Rylee Wittmeyer, right, greets new student Eleanor Horrocks and her mother, Alesha, on the first day of class on Wednesday. (Dan Pelle/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

The adrenaline was flowing Wednesday morning as Lincoln Heights Elementary School opened its doors to kindergartners.

At the main entrance, 5-year-old Logan Fisher clutched an action figure and ran circles around mother Brianna, who was running on four hours sleep but tried not to show it.

“I got off work at 2 a.m., and I haven’t slept, because I’m more nervous than he is,” Brianna said.

After a few hugs, mom and her only child walked into the building to begin their new adventure.

Spokane Public Schools also is facing a unique start to the kindergarten year.

Last fall, the district opened the year with distance learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Many families elected to send their kids to private schools; others homeschooled or deferred entry for another year.

And while the effect of COVID varied widely by district, most districts in Spokane County lost students. At Spokane Public Schools, enrollment last year was down almost 6% – a loss of 1,698 students over the previous year.

Roughly a third of the decline was at the kindergarten level; now, most of them are back. The result is the biggest kindergarten class in recent history: about 2,700, according to district estimates.

“We’re ready for them,” Superintendent Adam Swinyard said.

For Lincoln Heights, that meant a second straight year of adjustment. Two years ago, the South Hill school housed four kindergarten classrooms.

Last year, kindergartners filled only three classrooms; this year they will occupy five.

However, the district adjusted as well, allocating funding that will ensure K-3 classes average only 18 students.

“The teachers are excited to have the kids back,” said Principal Meghan Anderson, who hoped that 3-foot distancing and children’s familiarity with masks will make the transition even easier.

“As adults, we sometimes worry that kids can’t do it, but kids can do anything we set those expectations for,” Anderson said.

Inside, teacher Rylee Wittmeyer was waiting in a classroom full of bright colors and the ubiquitous letters of the alphabet, in both upper and lower case, of course.

Kindergarten is a revelation for parents and kids, but it’s the same for teachers.

Asked what she likes about teaching the youngest students in Spokane Public Schools, Wittmeyer paused for a nanosecond.

“What isn’t there to like?” she said.

Every day is serendipitous, Wittmeyer said. “Everything that you think they should know – some do and some don’t.”

“And they have no filters,” Wittmeyer said. “They love you like a parent.”

A few seconds later, the first families walked in. Thanks to orientation meetings held this week and last, the room was less daunting than it might have been.”

“Are you ready?” Wittmeyer said to the first girl in the room. “Do you remember where to hang up your backpack?”

Of course she did, and so did the rest as they arrived, all wearing masks. Parents joined them briefly at their desks, some snapping last-minute selfies before they no longer could put off the inevitable and had to leave.

Were they still worried? Perhaps.

“But looking back to last year, these kids are so resilient,” Wittmeyer said. “People thought it was going to be a big struggle, but these kids just learn so quickly.”

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