It’s bitterly cold outside, but the kindergartners playing on the jungle gym and a hill of snow next to Dillingham Elementary School don’t seem to mind.
“I like being in school,” said Juliette Olson. “I like seeing my teacher. And it’s been fun to see my teacher!”
Cooper Roenfanz agreed.
“I like being in school,” he said. “I like to see my friends.”
Dillingham city schools have had to close the classrooms after two and a half weeks. That’s because people at the were potentially exposed to COVID-19. The 13-day window of in-class instruction was a welcome respite for the kids, who hadn’t been in a classroom since last November.
“My favorite thing is to play out. And making snow angels,” said Myia Womack.
“I like to play outside and go to the monkey bars,” said Wesley Active.
“I like to look at the stars,” said Isla Jones.
I asked Isla what she liked to play most. She thought about it for a moment, then said, “Legos!”
The kindergartners are hard at work on the basics — Wesley said right now they are learning letters and numbers.
School isn’t just a place to learn. It’s also where children can spend time with their friends, kids their own age. For Hoku Messer and Les Kayoukluk, that’s the best part of being back.
“Playing with our friends,” Les said.
“Playing with our friends,” Hoku agreed. “Keeping them safe from the virus, cause there’s virus coming on.”
Both Hoku and Les said their favorite subject is math.
I asked them what was hardest about not being in school.
“It’s sad,” Hoku said. “I’m sad why I don’t get back to school.”
“Sad,” Les echoed.
In the background, kids gathered at the top of a snowy hill howl at the waning gibbous moon hanging in the cloudless sky.
Faye Borden said they were playing “lions,” which is also her favorite game.
“It’s when we pretend to be lions and do a lot of lion-y stuff,” she explained.
“Cool, like roaring?” I asked.
“Yeah, like I do that like, ‘Rawr!’ she said.
Everyone is excited to be here, said teacher Julien Deljanovan.
“It’s really great being back in school. It’s absolutely the best scenario for us,” she said. “Distance learning is a big challenge for everyone, but especially for the young learners.”
Distance learning presents particular problems for young kids; Deljanovan said that’s partly because they need a lot more guidance.
“They can’t pick up their iPad and say, ‘I’m going to get on Schoology and find my reading lessons for today!’” she said. “There’s so many skills that they’re working on at once. There’s so much to teach. And not being able to just see what they’re learning and adjust accordingly, too. Something that I assign might be really easy for one student and really hard for another student and I can’t give the support that they would need. So it just makes it very difficult.”
Deljanovan said the transition back to in-person learning was smooth.
“They’re just so eager to participate, and they knew the routines coming in, and they clean up so quickly and go to the next thing,” she said. “So they’re eager to be here, and it’s been going mostly well.”
Deljanovan started to call the kids in. Recess was over and it was time to start the rest of the day.
Neela Hoseth and Valerie Savo were excited to get to the classroom.
“We’re learning some stuff about snowmen when they melt, then they — the snowball gets a little harder,” Valerie explained.
“What’s your favorite thing that you’re learning right now?” I asked.
“That snowmans — they melt in the summer,” she said.
“Having fun,” Neela said. “I never got to see my friends in a long time, so I came back to school.”
The kids gathered to go back inside for another day of learning together, with big smiles under cloth masks. Hopefully they can come back here soon.