Back to School: Students return for uncertain year

Christine Stephenson/The Herald
Holy Trinity Catholic School fourth grade teacher Jamie Clauss explains the steps of a get-to-know-you game while students Gavin Knight, left, and Tessa Ginder listen. Wednesday was the first day of school at Holy Trinity, as well as public schools across the county.

By CHRISTINE STEPHENSON
cstephenson@dcherald.com

JASPER — If any of the teachers at Holy Trinity Catholic School’s East Campus missed their morning coffee Wednesday, they didn’t show it. Starting around 7 a.m., they stood outside the front doors, welcoming in each student until the last one was through the door.

Some waved gold and purple pom poms and welcome signs. Others sang and danced to pop music blasting through the speakers.

Fourth grade teacher Jamie Clauss kept it simple.

“Good morning,” she said softly to each student, standing closest to the doors. “Are you guys ready?”

Wednesday marked the first day of the 2021-22 school year for most schools in Dubois County.

In a lot of ways, everything felt normal. Students showed off their new shoes and haircuts. Teachers remarked how some students seemingly grew a foot taller over the summer. Most kids entered without masks, as it isn’t required by the school.

But the pandemic is still looming. Last week, more than 300 students across the state reported positive COVID-19 cases, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.

With strict mask mandates and social distancing, spread within schools was kept relatively low last year. This year, many schools have adopted mask-optional policies and relaxed social distancing requirements, which may lead to an increased spread.

For now, it’s a waiting game.

“I hope this lasts,” Clauss said. “The kids are rockstars when it comes to this, though ... I’d say it was probably harder for the teachers to adapt than the kids. But do I think it’s ideal? Would I ever want that again? No.”

Before she moved to fourth grade, Clauss taught first grade for 15 years. She’s worked in the education field for about 25 years total.

Clauss has seen a lot of change in the classroom throughout her career. She’s discussed different current events with students from the past two decades. She’s seen an increased emphasis on social and emotional learning rather than just covering the curriculum. She’s seen the school’s technology expand from one computer lab in the entire building to each student having a Google Chromebook of their own.

That one-on-one technology access is more important now than ever, she said. Last year, students were out left and right due to COVID-19, either sick or quarantining as a close contact, until after Christmas when cases began to fall. She herself tested positive within the first few weeks of school.

One of the first tasks Clauss’ students did once they settled in Wednesday was log into their Google Classroom accounts.

“I want us to be set up, so if you get quarantined or something,” she told the fourth-graders. “Because I know that happened to a lot of us last year.”

Last year, Clauss would often record lessons at home in the evenings so students in quarantine could watch them the next morning. Sometimes, she would just tape the actual class. She’d rarely attempt live lessons, though, as she worried about the seemingly inevitable technology issues.

“We just started using Google Classroom last year, so sometimes I’m just clicking around, and I make mistakes,” she said, “which is good, because they see me make mistakes, and then they’re not afraid if something happens. They learn it’s just a part of life, that we all make mistakes.”

Clauss’ teaching attitude and methods have morphed throughout the years. Each class is different, so she has to act accordingly. COVID-19 makes the year especially uncertain. But her motivation has always stayed the same.

“Some days, it’s hard,” she said. “Some days, you come in and you’re like, ‘OK, do I even know what I’m doing?’ But you’ve got those kids every day. I love getting to know them, and they quickly become mine.

“I had a kid come back yesterday (at Back to School Night), and mom was like, ‘He just had to stop back and say ‘hi’ to you. He had such a great year.’ It’s stuff like that that keeps you going.”




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