Fifth, sixth grade teachers get ready for students’ return to full-time learning

SPOKANE, Wash. – For the first time in more than a year, more than 14,000 elementary students in Spokane Public Schools will be back in class every single day. Fifth and sixth graders are the last elementary school kids to transition to full time learning Wednesday.

Students had to learn virtually Tuesday in order for teachers to get their rooms and other things ready for the full-time return.

There was a ‘Tuesday to-do’ list on top of a stack of papers in Joseph Arnhold’s sixth grade classroom at Longfellow Elementary. He listed a few things he still had to do before welcoming all his sixth grade students back into class for the first time this year.

“It’s like it’s the first week of school,” Arnhold said. “We have been spending hours, planning and prepping on how to deal with the logistics on having the full class here.”

It’s the little things on that list that he and many others spent the day, and last week, figuring out.

They’ve had to figure out where to put the laptops or where students will store their school supplies in a pandemic world.

“It’s more than just moving desks,” Arnhold said.

He’s been used to having half his students in his classroom. That was 11 students spaced out six feet apart. Now, that it’s going down to three feet, it was a blessing and a curse.

On one hand, it allowed schools to bring all students back to class. He’ll end up having 22 students in his class starting Wednesday. But, on the other hand, it created other obstacles.

“Logistically, this has been a challenge,” said Adam Oakley, the principal of Longfellow Elementary.

For example, sixth graders will have to be split up for lunch because there is not enough room in classrooms for them to eat there. Even though students can be three feet apart in classrooms, they have to be six feet apart everywhere else, including while eating.

“Now, for the first time all year, we’ll have kids eating in the multipurpose room,” Oakley said. “So, we’re spaced out in the multipurpose room, but half of our sixth graders will be eating in the classroom so they can stay six feet apart.”

That then just added another to-do item for schools: finding staff to watch the other half of students eating lunch in another room.

“Every change, not only affects the students, but every change affects us as teachers,” Arnhold said.

It hasn’t been an easy year for Arnhold and other teachers navigating instruction during a pandemic, but they’ve been adapting. Arnhold tells 4 News Now he’s excited to have all his students together in class for the first time. Some students haven’t even met others in-person yet.

“There may have been students who met online but they’ve never had a chance to see or meet still because they were on the opposite rotation day,” he said. “So, this is an opportunity to build that environment and strengthen that for the last couple of weeks.”

As more students return to the classroom, teachers are happy to see a routine come back for kids, knowing that the last year has not been easy for them.

Some students have thrived on the hybrid or fully remote learning schedule. But others needed a little extra push and help to get through. Both Arnhold and Oakley have seen a change in some of their students as they transitioned to more time learning in-person. Now, they get to spend the last few weeks of schools with them face-to-face five days a week.

“Our school motto is leave Longfellow a community better than how we found it,” Arnhold said. “During this time of constant change, it’s a way to help us learn and evaluate our teaching practices and how we can best leave our students better than how we found them.”