Education

Masks, hand sanitizer and first-day excitement — thousands of students across Anchorage go back to school in-person

Eight-year-old Rayden Corscadden walked into Klatt Elementary School for his first day of third grade with dinosaur-themed hand sanitizer — and a mask to match.

“I’m really excited because I get to meet my old friends from second grade and I can play with them on the playground,” Corscadden said.

Corscadden, along with thousands of first through 12th grade students, returned to class in the Anchorage School District on Tuesday. The school district prioritized starting the 2021-2022 school year in-person. Last school year, students came back to classrooms halfway through the year or later, after most classes were held online for months due to the pandemic.

At Klatt Elementary in South Anchorage, teachers and staff welcomed Corscadden and other students, blowing bubbles and blasting pop music in the school parking lot. Kids showed off their hand sanitizer bottles to friends as they got to class.

Corscadden’s mom, Abrianna Haring, took photos of her son standing in line behind his classmates. He made sure his teacher was visible in the photograph.

[Eagle River Elementary reopens to students for the first time since 2018]

“I think it’ll be a good school year,” Haring said. “And I feel comfortable with the (mitigation) plan.”

Facing a rise of COVID-19 cases in Anchorage and the highly contagious delta variant, School District Superintendent Deena Bishop announced a mitigation plan in a letter to families on July 31 aimed at keeping “ASD symptom-free.”

The plan includes a requirement to wear masks indoors and on school buses, which is drawing pushback from some parents and also Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson. Bishop in response has said keeping schools open is her “highest priority” and “masking helps us accomplish this goal.”

But in addition to the indoor mask requirement, the district is also requiring daily cleaning and disinfecting inside of schools, classrooms, administrative offices and on buses. Kids will be spaced out in classes, too.

Each school building’s ventilation system will be turned on for two hours before and after school to help with airflow, according to the district’s guidelines. Students will need to wash their hands throughout the day and use hand sanitizer.

Before taking off coats and backpacks, the 20-or-so second graders in Topaz Stotts’ class applied hand sanitizer and found their way to their assigned seats — which she said is required for elementary students in case the school needs to do contact tracing.

Stotts said feels confident about the district’s mitigation plan. She’s feeling “pretty good” about learning in person this year, too. It’s “a lot easier” for kids, she said.

[University of Alaska and Alaska Pacific University campuses are requiring masks indoors]

“I’m excited about the mask mandate — I know not everyone is — but I’m pregnant,” Stotts said.

Seven-year-old Logan Jolly is in Stotts’ class this year. He said he can’t wait for PE and to see his friends.

“I haven’t seen anybody new so far, everybody in this classroom was with me last year,” Jolly said.

Some students ate breakfast at their desks before the morning announcements from Klatt Elementary Principal Kelsey Deiman-Szymanski.

She said in an interview that Monday night was “like Christmas.”

“The first day of school is today — I was super excited, up early and up in the middle of the night — anticipating kids coming back,” Deiman-Szymanski said.

Kids did “really well” following COVID-19 procedures last school year with practices like mask-wearing and social distancing, she said.

But, she said, being face-to-face brings out “a lot of excitement” both from students and staff.

“(Students) are just so excited to get in this building and in their classroom and see their friends and have a structured day,” Deiman-Szymanski said.

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