CES remains upbeat on first day

By SCOTT MIMS / Staff Writer

On a typical first day of school, Calera Elementary would have welcomed back well over 700 students, but on Thursday, Aug. 13 the number of students on premises was closer to 300, according to Principal Genét Holcomb.

Some teachers at CES welcomed a classroom of socially-distanced, masked students while others welcomed their students virtually via a laptop running Google Meet. But all had the same goal.

“Our perspective on some things has changed, but we’re having to do what’s best for students, and that’s never changed—that’s the same from year to year. We come here to be caring and advocates for kids,” Holcomb said.

“Safety has always been a No. 1 concern,” she continued. “Safety looks a little different this year because now we have more health concerns than typical. But that’s always our first goal, and we’ve worked through many procedures and processes to improve what we normally do in order to increase social distancing, whether it be leaving for the car rider line or going through the cafeteria line or sitting for lunch.”

In preparation for Thursday, the school’s nurse went about the building helping teachers organize their classrooms to most effectively utilize the space while allowing for proper social distancing. Hand sanitizing stations could be found throughout the school, including at the main entrance. Classroom sinks and hand soap were also being utilized.

Holcomb said the morning of day one had gone well, and she thanked the school’s staff for their planning and parents for their cooperation.

“Even our central office partner who was here observing said that’s the smoothest I’ve ever seen,” Holcomb said.

Some faculty members wore T-shirts based on the hit TV show “Friends” which included a saying based on the show’s format of episode titles—“The one where they came back even stronger.” Signs placed on the school’s property also bore the logo.

Kindergarten teacher Jordan Smiley, whose daughter was among those in attendance Thursday, said she thought the faculty and staff were “prepared for the unexpected.”

“I had all of the feelings this morning—I was nervous, excited, a little emotional mainly because this is kindergarten,” she said. “As soon as I got here, I was like, ‘I’ve known these people for three years now. I know they’ve got this.’ I felt real comfortable leaving her with her teacher this morning. I felt like she was in good hands.”

Smiley said her classroom hosted about 16 students Thursday, whereas that number would normally be closer to 22.

Dana Janney, one of CES’s remote teachers, described the first day of school as “bittersweet.”

“We’re glad our parents had the opportunity for remote learning, but we miss the actual interaction and being face to face with our students,” Janney said.

Remote teacher April Maner said the virtual format required “a lot of adapting” because of the way things have to be planned.

“It’s going to be live and recorded so it’s accommodating to parents’ work schedules, and also kids can go back and replay it. The resource is always there,” she said.

Casey Ford, another remote teacher, also said it was bittersweet not being able to give her students treats like she normally would.

“It did my heart good to see them smiling,” she said. “We’re still able to have those relationships, just in a different way.”

Janney was optimistic that once everyone gets used to the process of signing in and logging on virtually, the process will get easier. She thanked parents for their patience.

Holcomb indicated that virtual instruction and social distancing were equally the most challenging part of being an educator in a pandemic.

“To teach young children virtually is always an obstacle because we know best practices is hands-on, active engagement, cooperating and collaborating with their partners and peers in their classroom,” she said. “We’re still going to have good teaching and we’re still going to see students learn and grow, but thinking outside the box is an understatement.”

She again thanked the CES staff for their efforts and perseverance.

“They are finding a way to do what’s best for children even with all the regulations and recommendations of the CDC and the Alabama Department of Public Health,” she said.