Big changes for little learners in Fort Smith

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"I'm just really ready to see those little faces excited to learn. I'm ready to be back."

FORT SMITH, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — For the first time, parents will not be able to walk their kindergartners in for their first day at many schools, including Cook Elementary in Fort Smith. That’s only one of the differences taking place to protect students and staff.

“This is my 35th year to teach kindergarten, and those first days are the most exciting,” said kindergarten teacher at Cook, Cami Stancil.

Stancil has been with the Fort Smith School District for almost 30 years.

“I have never taught kindergarten using desks, but with physical distancing, desks are definitely a must,” Stancil said.

Each desk is spaced at least six feet apart. 

“The one thing that’s going to be the hardest for them is the physical distancing,” Stancil said. “They want to hold hands, they want to hug.”

Along with distanced desks, each child will have their own learning materials and an assigned number as a way to minimize contact with each other.

“They’ll use that same number to line up on a star when they arrive,” Stancil said. “They’ll use that same number at a table at lunch. They’ll use that same number at a table in this classroom.”

“I have a daughter that will be attending one of our junior highs here in the district, so I take it very serious,” said supervisor of facilities for the Fort Smith School District, Shawn Shaffer.

Shaffer said he and his team have closely followed CDC guidelines to get ready for the school year.

“We provided plexiglass shields for the teacher’s desks,” Shaffer said. “We provided three washable masks for every student and every staff member in the entire district.”

He said fluidity is going to be key for everyone.

“If there’s a shortage of teachers, if a teacher gets sick, I can sub for that teacher,” Shaffer said.

Even with all the uncertainty and changes, Stancil said she can’t wait to see her students.

“I’m just really ready to see those little faces excited to learn,” Stancil said. “I’m ready to be back. There’s just no replacing that face to face instruction for me.”

Principal of Cook Elementary, Marna Boltuc said if a student tests positive for the virus:

  • They will have to quarantine for 14 days, but would be able to keep up with their studies online.
  • The district point of contact will then contact trace to determine who else would need to quarantine and then reach out to the Arkansas Department of Health to report the case.
  • It would be up to ADH to decide if and when the school would shut down.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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