The excitement was palpable at Sterling Elementary School on Tuesday morning, where pre-K through sixth grade students reunited with friends and geared up for the start of a school year that, like last, will be shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first day of school came amid surging COVID-19 cases on the peninsula and meticulous efforts by the district to mitigate the virus’ spread while not requiring students to wear masks. Mask-wearing among Sterling Elementary students and staff on Tuesday was mixed.
When asked what part of going back to school excited them the most, many students said they were excited to see their friends.
“Probably seeing everybody because you haven’t seen them for a while,” sixth grader Taylen Moore said.
Others were excited to get back in the classroom.
“You want to see my water bottle?” asked Rhylan Burdick. Burdick, who is going into first grade, was excited about his dinosaur water bottle and said he was most looking forward to craft time.
Cordy Watts, who was taking her great-grandson Ryan Pierren to his first day of third grade, said she’s feeling good about the start of the school year and that she feels “pretty safe” with the district’s masking policies and the availability of COVID-19 vaccines.
“Some people are wearing masks and stuff and that’s all right if they feel comfortable,” Watts said. “I’m give or take. If they ask me to wear one, I will, but if they don’t ask, I don’t wear one.”
The elementary school, which serves about 150 students, saw a jump in enrollment this year, Principal Denise Kelly said Tuesday, from students already attending district schools, as well as those who came from out of state. Kelly, who wore a mask while greeting students, said that even though many in the Sterling community don’t support mask mandates, she does not want masked students to feel alone.
“I’m really excited,” Kelly said. “Our main goal is just to keep everybody healthy and in school. If we can stay in school the entire year, then it’ll be a perfect year.”
A key piece of the district’s COVID-19 mitigation plan for the 2021-2022 school year is the role of school nurses, who are on the front lines of pandemic response in schools.
“(The school year’s) going to be great,” said Sterling Elementary School Nurse Tamra Walters, adding that she’ll be working to keep the district’s COVID mitigation protocols going.
Those protocols can be viewed in full on the district’s website. More information about the school district’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic can be found at covid19.kpbsd.org.