First day back; attending elementary school amid COVID-19

Carmi Elementary School, Grade 5 student Aleksander Filipovic, is excited to be back in school. (Phil McLachlan - Western News)
Lesley Evans teaches socially-distanced Grade 5 students, in Group B, during their first day back Thursday June 4. (Phil McLachlan - Western News)
Students are distanced at least six feet apart at their desks. (Phil McLachlan - Western News)
A bottle of hand sanitizer is visible from the back of Lesley Evans’ classroom. (Phil McLachlan - Western News)
Drinking fountains have been closed, during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Phil McLachlan - Western News)
Coat racks are also closed. (Phil McLachlan - Western News)
Carmi Elementary School principal Dave Ritchie is pictured standing on socially distanced dots, meant to keep kids apart before entering into the school. (Phil McLachlan - Western News)

School is back in session, for some.

About 30 per cent of students at Carmi Elementary School in Penticton have returned to school, with the remainder continuing to learn from home.

Currently between three and eight students learn together in a classroom on any given day.

It’s the end of the school day on Thursday, June 4 at Carmi Elementary School, and students are getting ready to pack up after their first full day back.

Grade 5 student Aleksander Filipovic is excited to be back in school, despite the fact he can long longer sleep in. Thursday, June 4 was his first day back in school as a student in Group B.

Students have been separated into learning on different days in order to promote social distancing.

“Meeting my friends again,” he said, when asked the best part about returning to school.

At his very core, Filipovic is an artist; art, dance and drama is what he enjoys most. His dream? To become an ultimate ballet dancer.

“I like drama because we get to do plays, we get to act, because I am an actor myself,” he said.

READ MORE: In photos: Modified, yet traditional graduation gives Penticton graduates a sense of normalcy

Those who prefer to keep their kids at home are being supported with one day a week of online learning, on Wednesdays. Those who returned to school were greeted with signs and sanitizing stations with information about how to stay safe.

Socially distanced dots keep kids apart before entering into the school. Hands are washed immediately, as well as before eating and after sneezing. Coat racks and water fountains are closed, and students have been split into groups to reduce the number of students in the classroom at one time.

“It’s certainly not the same as what we were doing before spring break, but it’s a step back towards what we’re used to doing at school,” said Carmi Elementary School principal Dave Ritchie.

“And it’s certainly wonderful to have kids back in the building, and some happy voices in the building.”

Social distancing, he explained, is not always possible in an elementary school. Playgrounds, although reopened, are not continually cleaned, but teachers are ensuring students wash their hands before they go outside, and when they come back in.

READ MORE: South Okanagan playgrounds now open

Although some schools are grouping students together by last name, the staff at Carmi Elementary chose to group based on who they thought would work well together. As long as they remain under the umbrella of expectations set out by WorkSafeBC, and the provincial health officer, schools have been given flexibility to adjust some elements of the return-to-school framework, like how students are grouped.

“My teachers know the students best, and we wanted to make the greatest opportunities for success for every student. So they chose groups that they felt would work well together,” said Ritchie.

Siblings also attend school on the same day to reduce transportation time and cost for their families.

The foundation of Carmi Elementary School’s plan, Ritchie explained, was connections and relationships, and he said they understand the importance of reuniting kids with their friends.

“There’s lots of fears everywhere right now, for all of us, adults and students,” he said. “Our job is to try, as best we can, make kids feel comfortable in that, we’re doing everything we can do be safe, that this is a good place to be, and those social connections are certainly important for kids.”

This year, report cards will look different, and Grade 5 graduation will also look different. The elementary school is working to plan some sort of event, in the form of a field trip, and possibly a yearbook, to honour their graduates.

“We can’t do it the same as we always have, but we want to honour and respect, and celebrate that they’re moving on to another stage in their learning,” Ritchie said.

READ MORE: Heads up, it’s fawning season in Penticton

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