There are no high-fives in Julie O’Brien’s kindergarten class at St. Vincent Ferrer School. Ditto for circle time and close encounters.
Students, teachers and staff don masks, classes are smaller and there’s social distancing — not the easiest concept to explain to 5-year-olds.
Despite many modifications, O’Brien is glad to return to the private Delray Beach Catholic school after more than five months.
Although students had plenty of resources for remote learning and she held frequent one-on-one Zoom sessions, it wasn’t an ideal learning environment and she missed the in-person interaction.
“The toughest part was that my son was home watching me give my time to other kids and he couldn’t play with me. It was very stressful trying to balance school and home life.”
But being back on campus presents other challenges.
“My biggest concern is the crying child. My first instinct is to get on my knees and swoop in for a hug,” says O’Brien, 43. “Human beings need to touch. It is something I am used to doling out in spades. I usually have someone on my lap and two right next to me. It’s going to be different, but I will explain everything in ways they can understand.”
Versatility is key, she says, including a mask with a clear strip over her mouth so students can see her pronounce words. “Teachers are nothing if not flexible and ingenious. We will make it work,” she says emphatically.
Her message to others? “Teachers are doing the very best that we can. As scared as people are to send their children back to school, I have my own worries about going back and having my son start kindergarten.”
But there is much to be grateful for: “I get to go to school and pray because I am in a Catholic school where we depend on each other, but we depend on God, too.”
— Linda Haase