May 4—Alexia Kelly is brand new to Lisa Nazareno's kindergarten classroom at Eisenhower Elementary School. After just three days, the expressive young learner already is accustomed to several routines.
And there's one new routine she's happy to see.
"I'm really excited, because there's other people here," Alexia said.
What Alexia is describing is a classroom full of kindergarten peers — all together in a class, not separated into cohorts or visible on a screen — for the first time all school year. Starting Monday, Vancouver Public Schools expanded to four days a week in-person instruction for kindergarten through third grade.
Next week, that expansion extends to fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and ninth-graders. Wednesdays remain a remote-only learning day.
Principal Jennifer Blechschmidt takes stock of how far her school has come since remote-only instruction kicked off the school year in September. There's even a few COVID-19 keepers that staff plan to instill moving forward next school year, including staggered pickup/drop-off by grade level, keeping with current lunch and recess routines, and specified social/emotional learning activities.
Blechschmidt even points to how in a school of 550 students, the kindergartners are the role models when it comes to following safety guidance. And that starts with proper mask-wearing.
"Kids can always teach us something," Blechschmidt said.
Students in Nazareno's class got their Monday started all together with watching caterpillar habits inside a container for their butterfly observation journal. It's a joyful activity for 6-year-old Makhari Lang, who said he's made friends with everybody in class. Being around classmates in-person beats a screen any day.
"We're all here," Makhari said, "and at lunch time we can all talk to each other."
Nazareno also spent part of Monday morning reviewing safety routines after counting and alphabet exercises. Students practiced lining up at a safe distance for recess and end-of-day dismissal with color-coded dots on the classroom carpet. Nazareno reminded her students why it's important to keep their arms up and straight ahead of them when walking. After all, the COVID-19 pandemic is still going on.
"Because it reminds us," Nazareno said, referring to 6 feet of spacing in common areas.
Nazareno has taught in the district for more than 20 years. She's watched her class of youngsters excel as the year has progressed, and Monday brought a new level of excitement in her classroom. VPS first brought kindergartners in for hybrid instruction in November, and Monday was students' third learning model change.
Nonetheless, like they have all school year, Nazareno knows her students will respond.
"It's going to take awhile to relearn all the routines," she said, "but they're going to do great."