Students once again graced the campus of St. Anne’s School and kindergarten teacher, Elizabeth Dieterle, was overjoyed to see their smiling faces without a screen interfering.
“There really are no words to describe how wonderful it was to be back in the classroom face-to-face with my students,” she said via email. “It brought tears to my eyes to see them arrive dressed in uniform, with these huge smiles, ready to learn. This is the way that five-year-olds should learn. Live and in-person, hands-on with the teacher right there in the flesh — not an image on a screen. And with friends to interact with face-to-face.”
St. Anne’s is one of six schools in Tulare County that was granted a waiver allowing students in kindergarten through second grade (K-2) to return to school for in-person learning. The other schools were Terra Bella’s Zion Lutheran School, Visalia’s George Mccann Elementary and St. Paul’s, Tulare’s St. Aloysius Catholic School, and Dinuba Junior Academy.
Saucelito Elementary School also received provisional approval by the county for in-person learning and its waiver is being reviewed by the California Department of Public Health.
After weeks on Zoom, Dieterle’s students spent their first day hearing the Bible story about Jesus blessing the children and learned about the letter A. They also voted, did calendar math, and danced to the song “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” Students also learned different ways to make the number eight and made things with PlayDoh too.
“It was a full day of
doing all the hands-on ways of learning that kindergartners need,” Dieterle said.
The biggest adjustment for Dieterle and her students, in regards to being back together, wasn’t being able to hug and comfort one another.
“I’m not able to get down on their level and just hug them when they want a hug,” she said. “I’m trying to teach them to do elbow bumps instead of hugs but it’s really hard for them and for me. They have not been in school together until now so they didn’t really have any experience before this other than preschool. They were very cooperative in sitting where I asked them to and maintaining the social distance.”
“At rest time they were exhausted and nearly everyone fell asleep,” Dieterle added with a laugh. “I guarantee they will go to bed early tonight without any fuss and they will no doubt sleep soundly!”
Several other schools are awaiting waivers from the state to reopen and Dieterle is hopeful more schools will be granted permission to reopen.
“Again there are no words to tell you how good it felt to see them learning the way they learn best,” Dieterle said. “So thankful that we are able to do this.
“Here’s (to) hoping that everyone can be back in school soon. To my public school counterparts, don’t lose hope! Apply for the waiver and we will be praying for you.”
All Tulare County schools will be allowed to reopen when the county stays out of the state’s purple, widespread category for two weeks. For the county to move down into the next category, known as the substantial or red category, it would need to average seven or less cases per 100,000 residents over a seven day period and have an 8 percent positive test rate. Tulare County is currently averaging 10.5 cases with a 9.3% positive rate.
If Tulare County schools stay under 14 cases per 100,000 through the end of next week, schools that applied for waivers will be able to open for grades K-6.