Sterling Elementary welcomes students on the first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Sterling Elementary welcomes students on the first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

‘Our main goal is just to keep everybody healthy and in school’

KPBSD opens doors for first day of classes

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.

Reach reporters Camille Botello and Ashlyn O’Hara at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com and ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

Cordy Watts takes a photo of her great-grandson Ryan Pierren on his first day of third grade at Sterling Elementary School on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Cordy Watts takes a photo of her great-grandson Ryan Pierren on his first day of third grade at Sterling Elementary School on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Sterling Elementary School Principal Denise Kelly helps Melody Gage, second grade, with her backpack on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Sterling Elementary School Principal Denise Kelly helps Melody Gage, second grade, with her backpack on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Tynlee, fourth grade, and Taylen Moore, sixth grade, head into Sterling Elementary on their first day of school on Tuesday, August 17, 2021. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)

Tynlee, fourth grade, and Taylen Moore, sixth grade, head into Sterling Elementary on their first day of school on Tuesday, August 17, 2021. (Camille Botello / Peninsula Clarion)

Katina Jacobson walks her daughters Evalyn, kindergarten, and Zoey, second grade, into Sterling Elementary on their first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Katina Jacobson walks her daughters Evalyn, kindergarten, and Zoey, second grade, into Sterling Elementary on their first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Darion and Karl Nusunginya get their photo taken before their first day of first grade at Sterling Elementary School on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

Darion and Karl Nusunginya get their photo taken before their first day of first grade at Sterling Elementary School on Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)

More in News

A moose is photographed in Kalifornsky, Alaska, in July 2020. (Peninsula Clarion file)
Illegal moose harvest down from past 5 years

The large majority of moose this year were harvested from North and South Kasilof River areas.

Renee Behymer and Katelyn Behymer (right) of Anchorage win this week’s vaccine lottery college scholarship sweepstakes. (Photo provided)
Dillingham and Anchorage residents win 6th vaccine lottery

“Get it done,” one winner said. “Protect us all, protect our elders and our grandchildren.”

Kenai Vice Mayor and council member Bob Molloy (center), council member Jim Glendening (right), council member Victoria Askin (far right), and council member Henry Knackstedt (far left) participate in a work session discussing the overhaul of Kenai election codes on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska.
Kenai City Council gives sendoffs, certifies election results

Both council members-elect — Deborah Sounart and James Baisden — attended Wednesday.

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. (CDC)
COVID is No. 3 underlying cause of death among Alaskans so far this year

The virus accounted for about 7.5% of all underlying causes of death after a review of death certificates.

Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, speaks on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives during a floor debate on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, over an appropriations bill during the Legislature’s third special session of the summer. Multiple organizations reported on Wednesday that Eastman is a lifetime member of the far-right organization the Oath Keepers. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Data leak shows state rep is member of far-right organization

Wasilla area lawmaker said he joined when Oath Keepers first started.

Christine Hutchison, who lives in Kenai and also serves on the Kenai Harbor Commission, testifies in support of the use of alternative treatments for COVID-19 during a meeting of the Kenai City Council on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Medical liberty’ petition brought to Kenai City Council

Some members of the public and Kenai City Council spoke against health mandates and in support of alternative treatments for COVID-19

Amber Kraxberger-Linson, a member of Trout Unlimited and streamwatch coordinator for the Chugach National Forest, works in the field in this undated photo. Kraxberger-Linson will be discussing at the Saturday, Oct. 23 International Fly Fishing Film Festival the organization’s educational programming for next summer. (Photo provided by Trout Unlimited)
Out on the water — and on the screen

Trout Unlimited to host fly fishing film festival Saturday.

This screen capture from surveillance footage released by the Anchorage Police Department shows a masked man vandalizing the Alaska Jewish Museum in Anchorage in May. (Courtesy photo / APD)
Museums statewide condemn antisemitic vandalism

Two incidents, one in May, one in September, have marred the museum this year.

Three speech language pathologists with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District were recognized for excellence during the Alaska Speech-Language-Hearing Association last month. (Kenai Peninsula Borough School District)
Peninsula speech language therapists awarded for excellence

“I was very honored to be recognized by my peers and colleagues,” Evans said in an interview with the Clarion.

Most Read