It’s been 13 months since Ladd Lane Elementary School has had any students on campus since the Covid-19 pandemic forced the school to close in March 2020.
On Monday, Jennifer Murphy was able to drop off two of her daughters to school for the return of in-person instruction after weeks of distance learning and playing a part-time role of home school teacher.
“It worries me a little bit, but I know our school is really safe and they’re taking everything very serious, so I feel they’ll be safe,” she said.
Rebecca, a first grader, and Alison, a second grader, were both extremely eager to see their classmates in person for the first time in more than a year.
“I get to see most of my friends,” Alison said.
The return to school couldn’t have gone any smoother for Principal Jeannine Ostoja, who didn’t see a single tear shed from the kids as they headed toward their class on April 12.
“Dropping off at the gate was no problem,” she said. “Kindergarten and TK [transitional kindergarten] all knew what to do and there was no crying. It was amazing.”
Prior to entering the classroom, the students were given temperature checks at the gate by several school employees including Vice Principal Maylani Mahler.
Hollister School District, which Ladd Lane Elementary is part of, is offering the hybrid model that features two groups–morning and afternoon–who can attend school for two hours every day except Wednesday.
The kids must keep their masks on at all times, the desks are six feet apart to keep them at a safe distance and hand sanitizing stations are set up near the door.
Ostoja said the custodial staff sanitizes the classrooms with a fogging machine. They did a trial run last week to make sure they could hit every room within 45 minutes before teachers return from their lunch break.
The students are still required to do an hour of distance learning every day, including Wednesday.
Ostoja mentioned the distance learning students have just an hour scheduled for academia, but they don’t have to go through the procedures of taking their temperature, washing their hands and teaching them about social distancing.
Murphy said it’s difficult having the kids go through distance learning, especially because she had to switch her work schedule to evenings so that her husband can work during the day.
She mentioned that she was lucky because there were some parents that didn’t have the opportunity to find a schedule that worked for them.
“I have four kids so they had people to play with,” she said. “I have friends who have only one child and they were just so bored and missed that interaction.”
Murphy said that the students were able to get on Zoom meetings and hang out after class to interact but it wasn’t the same.
Ostoja said that a school without children is something that’s not a natural feeling for somebody that’s worked in education their whole life.
“It feels very odd,” she said. “We’ve been here but without kids, and it’s just not the same energy level. It’s depressing, really.”
Last week, the school’s staff began to return to work and for Ostoja it was a sign of relief just to see their cars in the parking lot.
“It’s been like a ghost town,” she said.
The return to school has been exciting for Ostoja. But, she mentioned that they tend to be a very family oriented school, which means that parents are used to being on campus and walking their kids to class.
In order to assure that kids make it safe to their class the school made a how-to video for students to guide them through procedures of entering campus. They also held a live town hall meeting with parents to discuss any concerns or answer questions they might’ve had.
Ostoja stressed that they’ve spent a lot of time and effort to make sure they have everything in place that’s needed to ensure that both staff and students are safe.
“It’s something new for parents to know that there’s no visitors on campus at this time,” she said. “Hopefully next year we can welcome them all back.”