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A look back with “The COVID Class”

Published: May. 24, 2021 at 7:07 PM CDT
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NEWBURGH, Ind. (WFIE) - Schools across the Tri-State are inching closer to summer vacation, but it goes without saying, this school year has been a “wild ride” for students and staff.

In March 2020, staff at Newburgh Elementary School organized a teacher caravan. At the time, driving through neighborhoods to wave at their students from a distance was really the only way to see them.

More than a year later, we reconnected with students and staff, who say they’ve come a long way in just a few months.

Jenny Schmitt is a third grade teacher at Newburgh Elementary School. She was also the organizer of last year’s teacher caravan.

“That was like, hands down, the best day that I feel like we’ve ever had,” says Schmitt. “I cried more than I ever thought I would cry. We knew that we were going to miss them, obviously, when we got shut down, but I personally had no idea just how much that I would.”

Principal Dr. Holly Arnold was also there that day.

“Just seeing the families, you know, when we would drive by,” says Dr. Arnold, “and the kids would get to see their teachers, and that was very rewarding to do that.”

Dr. Arnold has been an educator for 27 years, but this year has been unlike any other.

“The students, the parents, the teachers, this entire staff,” says Dr. Arnold, “everyone coming together, just showed me that we can get through anything.”

In the beginning, however, there were far more questions than answers.

“We definitely didn’t know what it was going to look like,” says Schmitt, “or how it was going to go.”

Rylan Wagner is wrapping up his year in 5th grade at Newburgh Elementary.

“I remember our very first day,” says Rylan, “I would take down my mask all the time.”

“It was weird,” says 5th-grader Bryce Howton, “but once you get used to it, and you know you can take mask breaks, it feels good.”

Students had to make other sacrifices too, like eating lunch in their classrooms and social distancing from friends.

“This year over any year, they have shown that they are so resilient and adaptable,” says Schmitt, “and they just go with it.”

For Schmitt, there was one word helped carry her class through it all.

“Give me grace,” says Schmitt. “Give the kids grace. Give the parents grace.”

Rhaelen Krantz is a 4th grader at Newburgh. She says her teacher really helped her get through the pandemic.

“She’s done really good,” says Rhaelen, “especially with having all the teachers wear masks and teaching farther away from the kids and not being able to use some of the stuff that we did previously.”

“They did an amazing job teaching this year,” says Rylan, “with all the new things we had to do.”

Students and staff say they’ve come a long way in just a few months, but these teachers say they did what they had to do to educate “the COVID class.”

“Just making sure that they knew that this was a safe space,” says Schmitt, “and everything was going to be alright.”

The last day of school at Newburgh Elementary is Thursday, May 27th.

Both Rylan and Bryce say they feel prepared to enter middle school, after this challenging school year.

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