Anchorage elementary schools buzz with excitement and apprehension as in-person class begins

At Anchorage’s Tudor Elementary School on Wednesday morning, children arrived by school bus, taxi, car and on foot, all wearing face masks and carrying backpacks.

Children scrambled out of their parents’ vehicles and dashed toward the building’s entrance, ready for the first day of in-person school since March.

Principal Nicole Sommerville, with spare face masks in hand, stood outside and greeted children and parents as they arrived, handing out masks when needed and directing children to their classrooms.

Similar scenes unfolded at elementary schools across the city as the Anchorage School District launched its plan to phase students back into classrooms, beginning with the district’s youngest students. Most elementary students in pre-kindergarten through second grade, and special education students in self-contained classrooms through the sixth grade, are in the first wave of students to return.

Parents and guardians bring their children to Inlet View Elementary School as students return to in-person learning in Anchorage on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (Emily Mesner / ADN)

Sommerville expected about 170 students to return to in-person learning at Tudor Elementary, she said.

“We’ve been working so hard this whole year, making sure that our kids had what they need and doing online learning but it’s just — it’s not enough,” Sommerville said. “If I could have brought all of them back, I would have.”

Tudor, a pre-K through sixth grade neighborhood school, also houses a Montessori program. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade in the Montessori program, and pre-K through third grade in the neighborhood school program, returned to in-person class on Wednesday.

Sommerville said the months away from classrooms were hard on students, especially those who are more vulnerable. The students come from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, she said, and the pandemic and school closures have had tremendous impacts on some. Some families have had to quit jobs to take care of children. Others are facing crises like eviction, she said.

“For them, this is familiar,” Sommerville said. “This is safe. They know they’ve got friends — they can be kids again.”

Music teacher Amy Spence, left, lights lanterns on the first day of in-person learning Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021 at Tudor Elementary School. The student-decorated lanterns are a tradition at the school, and normally would be arranged along a walkway greeting students returning from winter break. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Donna May Manalo dropped off her 5-year-old son, Dior, for his first day of in-person kindergarten. Both were a little apprehensive — Manalo about the health risks of the coronavirus, and her son a little overwhelmed about finally going to class, she said.

Manalo said the staff and school system seem to be doing their best to follow all the health protocols.

“It’s a nice feeling to be sending him off,” Manalo said. “Everybody is excited — the whole family is in the car to cheer him on.”

She said that while helping her son do school online, “there was a tendency for me to everything for him.”

“In school, he will really learn to be independent,” she said.

Theresa Peters was also there dropping off her three kids — one kept her backpack and snow pants on for hours in the house before the family was ready to leave, she said.

“We’re all excited,” Peters said. “We’re a little worried, but hopeful this will work out well.”

Tudor Elementary School 3rd and 4th grade Montessori teacher Courtney Romine helps students with a project on the first day of in-person learning Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Due to concerns over transmitting COVID-19, the current Anchorage School District mitigation plan does not allow guests, including parents and media, inside buildings. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Leath Kramer, a father of two young children, said he is also worried about the risks of coronavirus exposure. Still, online learning has not worked well for his kids, a fifth grader, Jonah, and a first grader, Jasper.

“They hate it,” he said. Being cooped up all together at home has been difficult, he said.

For Kramer, a single parent and a self-employed carpenter, having the kids at home for school has also been difficult financially.

“It cut down on my ability to work,” he said. “My bank account is going to be happy about this.”

As he walked his kids to the entrance, Kramer bent down to say goodbye to his children and urged them inside, patting their shoulders.

“You guys good to go?” he said. “Have fun at school.”

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