PENDER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - There’s been a lot of concern from parents on sending students back full-time. Pender County Schools began Plan A for their elementary students Nov. 9. WECT looks at how it’s working out as we continue to see big increases in COVID cases across the state.
Since August, there have been 100 diagnosed cases of coronavirus between staff and students. As of Monday, there are five in isolation and 71 in quarantine. Despite those numbers, in-person attendance is high in Pender County. Between 70 and 80% of students are taking part in face-to-face learning.
“We’ve welcomed everybody back, knowing that we’re going to do everything possible to keep kids safe and to promote a learning environment that’s healthy and safe and is going to be positive and beneficial for them," said John Calarco, the P.E. teacher at North Topsail Elementary.
At that school, class sizes range from 20 to 30 students. With that many children in one room, it’s hard to enforce six-feet social distancing, but teachers say they’re doing the best they can with what they’re given.
“It’s been interesting with the class sizes going back up,” said Calarco “Schools weren’t built for the physical distance that we’re needing right now.”
Though elementary students are allowed to be back in the classroom full time per the Governor’s orders, Wednesdays are still a remote learning day to allow the school to get cleaned and sanitized.
“It’s been excellent actually, in our cleaning staff is keeping the school nice and clean," said Bridget Wortman, a first grade teacher at North Topsail. "And our parents have been super supportive of us.”
Wortman says an open line of communication has been key throughout this transition.
“To be able to communicate and keep those open lines of communication with the parents and reassure them that we’re going to take care of their children...that’s been huge," said Wortman. "And I’m telling you it was it was not easy in the beginning. But now, I think we can accomplish anything in Pender county now.”
Though the class sizes are different, not much else has changed inside the school. Students are spaced out in the hallways and during gym class. Masks are worn at all times. Lunch is eaten at their desks in the classroom. Hands are often washed and sanitized.
“I’m really confident in what I’m doing," said Wortman. "And even though it was a little bit of a struggle to get there, I know that the children are more engaged than they probably were before.”
Wortman said it’s been all about teamwork. She and another teacher are working together in a way others are not.
“I have the in-house babies on Monday, Tuesday,” said Wortman. “[The other teacher] has them on Thursday, Friday, and then we swapped our virtual kids as well. So we still get to keep everyone. And the great thing is, is that we have all this great wealth and knowledge to work together. And she and I have a lot of similarities. But there’s some things that she’s better at than I am and I’m better than she is. And it has completely worked out as a dream team. It’s been awesome. And the kids love it.”
Pender County School leaders hope more students opt for in-person learning after the new year—that’s if the numbers don’t spike due to holiday gatherings and there are no major changes from state leaders.