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In Farmington, it’s back to school

With COVID-19 precautions in place, face-to-face learning has returned
First graders Daisy Cota, 7, and Taos Deal, 6, eat their lunch on Wednesday with plastic dividers between them and fellow students in the cafeteria at Esperanza Elementary School in Farmington. Half of the class goes to the cafeteria and the other half stays in the classroom to eat. The students rotate every quarter on who eats where. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

FARMINGTON – Teachers are preparing the best they can to return to school during the age of COVID-19, not knowing for sure what will happen.

Roberto Taboada, spokesman for Farmington Municipal Schools, said the district has followed all guidelines put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and enacted by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. In fact, the district decided to implement a districtwide mask mandate before a second wave of mask mandates occurred.

Second graders in Rebecca Davis' classroom on Wednesday as they eat their lunch at Esperanza Elementary School in Farmington. Half of the class goes to the cafeteria and the other half stays in the classroom to eat. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“We learned a lot from last year from everything that we went through,” Taboada said. “Before we decided to wear the masks and to follow all the hygiene steps, we talked to our principals and we discussed it all very well before.”

The district set up and plans to have future shot clinics for the COVID-19 vaccine for older students.

Neykar Kotyk and Michelle Hickox, two third grade teachers at Esperanza Elementary School who are getting certified through an in-district program called Grow Your Own Teacher and started as educational assistants, said they wouldn’t feel as confident going into this school year if it weren’t for the support from administrators as well as other teachers.

“There’s a shortage of teachers,” said Esperanza Elementary Principal Virginia Hedges. “So the district has really worked with the principals to identify some of our own people that we felt fit the mold of a teacher, and there were so many of them in our building.

“And we felt like they know our vision, they know who we are and what we’re trying to do with the kids,” she said. “They know our routines and our families, and the challenges at our school and they’re still here. So let’s get them going and help them in any way.”

Hickox and Kotyk said they feel supported by the administrators and other teachers who “rallied” with them March 13, 2020, when school shut down and went to online learning. Now, both of them feel like if they were put into that situation again, things would be smoother because they are better prepared.

“If we have to go back, we have a better understanding of how and what to do, just in case,” Kotyk said.

Hickox said teachers aren’t just better prepared to handle online learning for students, but so are parents who suddenly became at-home educators when the pandemic hit and schools went to online learning.

Now, the school, which was named the recipient of the 2019-20 Beacon School Award, has come up with a way to combat parental frustrations that come along with trying to teach a child at home. The school has implemented Academic Parent Teacher Teams meetings, or APTT, to help train parents how to use the technology the students need to use.

“It kind of took the place of parent-teacher conferences,” Hickox said.

Aside from teaching parents how to help guide their students academically, some APTT meetings cover topics like social-emotional learning, which discusses the effects of skipping in-person school.

“We knew there would be a lot of kindergartners coming in who had never been to pre-K before and so they don’t know how to socialize,” Hickox said. “We use APTT to synchronize with our parents and let them know that this is what we’re focusing on and this is how you can support.”

On the student side of things, fifth grade student Christian Castro said he is happy to be back, but also feels confident in the administrators and teachers in the event school goes to online learning again.

“I prefer to stay in school because as soon as I had that opportunity to go in person, but with a mask, I instantly just wanted to go,” Christian said.

Christian Castro, 10, a fifth grader at Esperanza Elementary School digs into his schoolwork on Wednesday in Farmington. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The 10-year-old said he liked learning in-person more than online. However, he said it would be easier to do online learning this year compared with last year, and that Zoom has its benefits.

“I can still talk to my friends during Zoom meetings,” he said. “But being back with my friends feels amazing, and playing outside with no more barriers so we can play even if they’re in a different class.”

When there were more strict guidelines, classes couldn’t play together outside. Now that has changed. The cafeteria, however, is still set up to take only one class at a time while the other classes eat in the classroom and rotate which class gets the cafeteria.

Rebecca Davis talks with second graders on Wednesday as they eat lunch at Esperanza Elementary School in Farmington. Half of the class goes to the cafeteria and the other half stays in the classroom to eat. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Some other precautions the school has carried over from last year, or even improved on, include mask mandates, social distancing, providing sanitizer in classrooms and more.

Christian said this year it has been easier to comply with guidelines.

“Since the pandemic, every single class you go to there’s a hand sanitizer machine, and last year they put dots on the carpet so you can know where to go on, and stay 6 feet apart,” Christian said. “And that’s one rule that got us because we needed to learn, we needed like two or three weeks to learn how to stay on the dot.”

Students are reminded by teachers to keep 3 feet of distance between them on Wednesday at Esperanza Elementary School in Farmington. Last year, students kept 6 feet apart. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

He said because of the hand sanitizer and other precautions, Christian feels “very safe” this year.

“Every single teacher I see either has a mask or a face shield,” he said. “It’s a really good school.”


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