Pullman School District kindergarteners and first graders attended school in person Monday for the first time this school year, and all involved seem to agree — it’s good to be back.
“It’s like Christmas all over again for us, it’s good to see all the smiling faces,” said Sunnyside Elementary first and second grade teacher Liz Quinley.
Teachers and principals throughout the district said they shared Quinley’s excitement for the official start of face-to-face instruction. While there was early concern about elementary school children being able to follow COVID-19-mandated masking and social distancing rules, Quinley and company said Monday went as smoothly as can be expected.
“As a teacher, you anticipate and you have the stress dreams before coming back to school and of course, during a pandemic, it doubles,” Quinley said. “But today, it just validated how much Sunnyside and our district has planned — because the students are excited, you can see that they’re smiling through their squinted eyes behind their mask.”
Franklin Elementary School Principal Stephanie Bray said the excitement students had on their first day back was palpable and it makes sense. She said research shows by virtually any metric, students are better served receiving live, in-person instruction.
Bray said for many kindergarteners, Monday was their first time attending school in a school building.
“It was just really uplifting, to see all the kids and to hear kids say, ‘Can’t I be here every day?’” Bray said.
In addition to academics, Bray and her counterparts at other Pullman elementary schools said another crucial part of a student’s education has been buoyed by the shift to face-to-face instruction — social-emotional learning.
“We know academics is important, but social-emotional (learning) outweighs academics 100 times,” said Sunnyside Principal Pam Brantner. “I just see that kids are able to connect ... they can’t see their mouths, but they can see their eyes and they can see that smile through it.”
Other district administrators said it will simply be nice to alleviate what one called “Zoom fatigue” — exhaustion with online teleconferencing that could affect a student’s ability to focus.
Jim Bruce, principal at Jefferson Elementary, said the new hybrid model splits classes into two cohorts — an A group and a B group — which will alternate between days of in-person and online instruction.
Students in the A group attended school Monday and will return Thursday and students in the B group will attend school today and Friday, each group spending the other days of the week receiving instruction online. While in-person instruction is only being offered to kindergarteners and first-graders at this time, the plan is to add ensuing grade levels every two weeks, Bruce said.
In a way, he said, it’s like having several first days of school.
“This is opening day — first pitch — and the nice thing is we’re going to have multiple opening days and that excitement,” Bruce said. “Tomorrow will be another opening day for our B cohorts and then in two weeks, when we have second and third (grades) coming back, the same thing.”
Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.