INDIANA (WFIE) - When the world stopped on March 11, 2020, education for our students did not.
Hoosier students and staff sent home just two days later.
“That was kind of our last calendar day that all of us had,” says Highland Elementary School Assistant Principal Kelly York.
March 13 marked the first day of a year-long effort by the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation to teach during a global pandemic.
A pandemic many people thought would pass in a matter of weeks.
“I remember leaving on that Friday thinking, ‘well this is strange, but I’m sure I will see you guys on Monday or maybe in a week,’” says York. “Then Spring Break rolled around, and we did not go back after that. So it became real very quickly.”
As our community learned more about the virus, Harwood Career Preparatory High School soon became home to fourth and fifth graders from both Highland and Hebron Elementary Schools, with the high schoolers moving to a vacant wing in a different building.
“Here, we are able to socially distance our students,” says York. “We are able to use all the space in the building and have our school year safely.”
In the classrooms, all desks are six feet apart.
“So while they are sitting at their desks,” says York, “they are not required to wear a mask.”
Lunchtime also looks different. Students no longer allowed to eat meals in the cafeteria.
“Our students go pick up their lunch, they come back to the classroom, and they just eat with the same students they spend their day with,” says York.
Meanwhile, over at the Warrick County School Corporation, it is a similar story at Sharon Elementary School.
The focus here, however, is mask wearing.
Everyone, with the expect of students K-through-2, is required to wear masks throughout the day, even while sitting at their desks.
“I don’t think we have had a single problem with any kid not wanting to wear their mask or not wanting to stay 6 feet away,” says Jacob Moyes, a teacher at Sharon Elementary School. “They just know. It has become instinctive for them.”
Students only go to recess with their class. At lunchtime, students sitting with just a few kids per table to allow for social distancing.
Twelve months into the pandemic, there are students still learning virtually by choice, but these protocols have kept in-person learning relatively safe.
Only 25 cases were connected to the school since August. To put that into perspective, Sharon Elementary is home to 750 students.
Back in Vanderburgh County, school leaders say getting kids into the classroom safely has been the top priority all along.
“It is important for them to grow socially, emotionally,” says York. “Just to be together, to be with their teacher, to interact with their peers.”
“I would say it has been very good,” says Bailey Apple, a fifth grader at Sharon, “because we get to learn in a different standpoint, because last year we were like, ‘oh, okay we are just here to learn.’ Now, we are here for a purpose, because we get to learn how to be a better person.”
“The best part is basically still being able to be educated, without having to look at a screen all day,” says Caleb Huffman, a fifth grader at Sharon Elementary.
School leaders say their students are not behind because of COVID, but instead, better students because of it.
“We are a family,” says Sharon Elementary School Principal Ashlee Bruggenschmidt. “It’s not just 750 kids. It’s 750 families, and we just have to work together to do what we can.”