Teachers: “The Kids Will Be OK”

The positive message as Penrose School opens for K-2 children

Photo: Kelli Mahon finally back at the whiteboard before her 2nd Grade students at Penrose Elementary which opened for students whose parents elected hybrid learning last fall. Note the plastic panels separating students at their work tables.

By Ted Behr

The polished corridors of the “School House” for the primary grades at Penrose School at 78th Street and Buist Avenue were quiet and serene for the first day of the 2021 hybrid opening on Monday, March 15.         

Reflecting on the resumption classes there, Tara Willis, first grade teacher affirmed that “The kids will be OK! Although the past year has been a setback in some ways, the children are resilient and at the end of the day, they will make it!”   

The successful opening her classrooms has been a tremendous challenge to Penrose Elementary principal Carol Trench Casciato. (A quick look at the videos provided by District Superintendent William R. Hite, Jr., to orient families to the restart of inperson learning gives a picture the complexity.) “For our teachers in particular, it is a joy to work with children in the classroom setting again – even under the complicated operating guidelines. But having to integrate the at-home learning for the other students essentially doubles their workload!”    

“The kids will be fine,” was the smiling assessment of Juanita Jones, the school nurse at Penrose for the past four years. “it’s normal for kids to be with others. There’s a natural comradery and they learn from each other,   “I’ve had to work right through the pandemic to keep students’ health and vaccination records up to date,” she added. “I’ve also stayed busy attending Zoom meetings with other school nurses and interact with families on their health questions. Even though we’re starting to open, parents need to stay vigilant for signs and symptoms of anxiety and deal with the children’s concerns… or get help.*

Willis continued: “The children have learned a whole lot of new skills and their parents have developed a real stake in their education,” she said, her excitement in resuming her classroom role clearly evident. Willis had taken courses toward her Master’s in educational leadership but bowed out when she realized her heart was in the classroom.   

Adapting to the virtual teaching process was not easy for her last spring. “While I had taken virtual classes in college,” she recalled, “I had not trained formally for the teaching on that basis. And it was much more difficult for the children since few of them had a quiet place at a table at home and the supplies they needed to study.” 

“At age 6 or 7, kids aren’t prepared to navigate multiple online platforms,” Willis asserted. “But parents and daycare staff have helped them master a broad range of digital skill they need for online learning.”

Michael Smith, school custodian for over three years admitted, “We’ve had to be here throughout the shutdown maintaining the three buildings and the grounds. Now that the school is starting to open, it’s good to see the teachers and other adults back here at work.  We have to carefully sanitize any surfaces in the classrooms, restrooms, cafeteria and other areas which kids might touch,” he noted.  “That goes especially desks and worktables and the plastic separators in classrooms. “I’m really optimistic about the kids being here and getting back to normal again. I think they will come feeling that learning is really important.” 

And students, awed a bit by their return to once-familiar surroundings added their comments. “I’ve been helped by my mother at home, but I like the idea of coming back here, she mused. “I’ve really missed my teachers and the other kids.”  

Precious, a quiet, self-possessed second grader in Ms. Kalish’s section confirmed that it was exciting to be back to school again. “I didn’t like the daycare very much – except for the snacks. Doing the schoolwork at home was better.” he confessed, “But my older brother (a 4th Grader) was usually too busy to help me very much.”   

Kelli Mahon, a 2nd Grade teacher summed it up well. “Parents have always had some involvement in their children’s education. But since the pandemic, most of them are right there as participants! We hope we can sustain that kind of relationship in the future.”

* For information:  https://www.philasd.org/prevention/covid-19-health-and-mental-health-resources/

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