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Education

In-Person Learning In El Reno, Oklahoma: Elementary School Creates Different Challenges

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Robby Korth / StateImpact Oklahoma
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A sign at the entrance of El Reno High School. Masks are required for students, staff and visitors at the district.

In part two of a story about what in-person school looks like in Oklahoma, StateImpact’s Robby Korth takes us to Hillcrest Elementary School in El Reno. The district has gone to great lengths to make in-person schooling work.

Teacher Jerelyn Atchison is strumming her ukulele for a class full of masked-up three year olds.

It’s the kind of music time toddlers expect from their teacher. And even though it’s a little difficult to sing from behind a mask, Atchison is just happy to be in school after battling COVID-19 herself.

Hillcrest is home to the youngest children in El Reno Schools. About 300 pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students attend.

After the coronavirus shut down schooling last spring, El Reno educators scrambled to make in-person school happen for this fall. They’re doing just that by keeping classes separated during lunchtime and recess and there’s a mask on every face – big and small.

But coming back to school wasn’t as smooth as years prior for some teachers. Despite the new procedures, Atchison was scared.

“I was terrified, actually, at the beginning,” she said. “They can’t put the mask on themselves and so we were literally touching 20 masks 10 times a day.”

But now students and teachers alike have gotten into the swing of things. And they spend less time on safety protocols and more time on learning.

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Credit Robby Korth / StateImpact Oklahoma
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Pat Litiker, director of instructional leadership for El Reno Public Schools.

The district’s director for instructional leadership Pat Litiker said there are concerning interruptions related to quarantines.

“It breaks my heart more than anything when we have to quarantine the little bitty kids because they want to be in school, they want to come laugh, they want to come play,” he said.

But those quarantines are necessary for safety, he said. El Reno has not adopted some of the more relaxed quarantine protocols allowed in Oklahoma like cancelling out the need to quarantine if students are wearing masks.

In-person school is necessary because online classes are impossible for 4-year-olds, pre-kindergarten teacher Lindy Harper said.

“You actually get an experience,” Harper said. “It’s not just a screen and listening or slightly interacting. I mean, it’s constant interaction and learning all day long,” Harper said.

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