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As the impacts of COVID-19 continue, one of the key questions no matter where you live in this nation has been: how are the kids doing? During the Salida School Board meeting on December 8, Principal of Longfellow Elementary in Salida, Chuck McKenna gave the board a detailed report on how the kids have been doing at the school.

“It’s a world of walking down hallways and having kids give you air hugs. Some duck and run. Some of them tackle you because they don’t care if there is a COVID thing going on or not and then the next one walks by and shows you a booboo on their finger and says I got hurt last night and that’s the world of five-to-10-year old’s,” said McKenna.

The school’s enrollment is currently at 374 with seven new students planning to enter the school within the next two months. 48 kids are currently distance learning. McKenna expects enrollment to grow as COVID-19 surges begin to slow and as the vaccine is distributed. Longfellow has 5 kindergarten teachers and four teachers for first through fourth grade.

Longfellow Elementary. Photo by Jan Wondra

In regards to morale, McKenna said “we’re in pretty good shape overall and we’re tired as a school. It’s been an interesting thing to watch. Its normal for everyone to be exhausted as we get closer to winter break and that is happening. Then there’s this coming and going. Things are so much better when we have kids in the building, for the kids especially, but for the teachers as well.”

“People go into this business because of the children and when they’re not there and you’re just looking at them online its harder. I had one teacher say it’s a soul sucking experience to teach online. Having the kids in the building, there is just a wonderful energy going on.”

The Longfellow Parent Association, a group  of six women had their first fundraiser and brought in $8,500 for the school.

“Every time we go online, we get better at it. I was really pleased that we had warning for this last week of online,” said McKenna. “It’s really beneficial especially for third and fourth grade.”

McKenna said those online classes had an attendance close to 100 percent, with large amounts of engagement. The youngest grades still struggle with online. “I observed a number of classes and it’s not unusual to see someone standing on their head and doing all different sorts of gyrations. They have an attention span that is relatively short and yet the teachers put out a ton of energy and keep them engaged. We have gotten better at it and we will continue to improve on a regular basis.”

When kids arrive at school, they are given a squirt of hand sanitizer and a free breakfast. The students then go up to their room where they wash their hands and have a  COVID-19 symptom check which includes getting their temperature taken.

McKenna explained “what we’ve been appreciating is the teachers are taking time with each one of those children as they come in and talk to them about how they’re feeling and how they’re doing and if they have any concerns for the day. It’s been a really nice way to connect and alleviate any kind of worries that are going on. It’s been wonderful to see.”