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Education

First Grade Teachers Prep For Students Who’ve Never Been To School In Person

Children wait in line to grab their backpacks and find their classrooms during the first day of school at the Affton preschool center.
File Photo | Ryan Delaney | St. Louis Public Radio
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Children wait in line to grab their backpacks and find their classrooms during the first day of school at the Affton preschool center in August 2019.

Five-year-old Maria Buckner’s kindergarten looked different from the traditional classroom.

Instead of the brightly colored walls, toy bins and desks filled with chattering children, Maria’s whole kindergarten experience was contained in one iPad.

“At the beginning, I had to sit with her the whole day,” said Shananah Buckner, Maria’s mother. “On the real bad days, I would walk back in there and see her laying on the chair asleep.”

This upcoming school year, first grade teachers are preparing for classrooms filled with kids — like Maria — who will be stepping into school for the very first time. Many young children experienced kindergarten fully online or skipped the grade entirely because of pandemic-related closures last school year.

The social and emotional skills usually covered in kindergarten will now fall on first grade educators to teach.

“The way children had to navigate social interactions last year was very different. So, teachers now in the first grade will have to make sure that that’s one of the very first things that they address with young learners when they enter into the classroom,” said Samantha March, St. Louis Public Schools early childhood coordinator.

At McKelvey Elementary School in the Parkway district, Meegan Hood is preparing her lesson plans with those children in mind. She expects to spend the majority of the first week of schooling on establishing the school routine.

Concepts like raising hands, lining up straight and sharing with other students may be completely new to incoming first graders.

“All of those little routines that kids learn in kindergarten besides those academic things, those are definitely things we’ll be looking at teaching them possibly for the first time,” Hood said.

The transition from at-home learning to classroom learning is a big one, said first grade teacher Ariana Irby, who works in the Parkway district at Claymont Elementary School. Addressing the different levels of comfort in the classroom will take time out of the usual first grade curriculum.

“You might not hit the ground running at your normal starting point for first grade,” she said. “You might have to back up and really work on some social skills, listening skills, focusing skills, how to deal with emotions. Those things might have to come first before you get into your academic curriculum.”

One major change for children will be learning without their parents by their side. Separation anxiety is likely to be a bigger challenge this year, Irby said.

She plans on getting parents involved in the process in order to ease the transition.

“Keeping a picture of their family on their desk or letting them bring a stuffed animal from home, that helps,” Irby said. “And once they start having fun, they adapt and adjust, and it gets better.”

As for Maria, she can’t wait to finally see a classroom.

Talkative and friendly, she’s been eagerly awaiting the chance to meet friends in person, her mom said — something virtual kindergarten didn’t allow.

“She was always looking forward to it,” Buckner said. “I know she just wants to be friends with everybody.”

Follow Kendall on Twitter: @kcrawfish33

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