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How Westridge Elementary Adapted to Coronavirus (06/01/2021)

By Soleil Aldini and Katherine Stone
Edited by WDMCS School/Community Relations 

June 1, 2021 | Westridge Elementary is known for being welcoming to families and students. In years past, conferences took place at the school. Every fall, parents, teachers, and students would watch as their friends and classmates put on a play. In the winter, the entire school would fill up the gym for the sing-along. At recess, classes could play with each other.

Westridge was an amazing place, and it still is — just a bit different. Like the rest of the West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS), some Westridge students learned on-site, others learned online, and some did a mix of both throughout the year.

The major changes this year were wearing masks (optional as of May 20), separate recess areas, and specials (art, counseling, music, and physical education). At the beginning of the school year, students and teachers had to haul the entire contents of their desks home. This way, they would have everything they need for online learning. Fortunately, as Westridge went further in the year, they could leave more of their things at school.

Two masked elementary students work together at a desk.

Another thing that a lot of teachers and even some students struggled with this year was the no-touching rule.

“It’s just been interesting coming up with new ways for kids to play and do interactive things and use tools or manipulatives while also being COVID-conscious,” third grade teacher Sydney Hopkins said. 

Even with the pandemic, students enjoyed the time they spent with their classmates. Many students liked games or projects where they could work in groups because so many things are independent. Both teachers and students seemed to enjoy being outside more as well. Some teachers took their classes on walks around the building to get some fresh air after wearing masks for so long.

This year was even more different for students who were learning online. Westridge prepared for online learning, and teachers knew it was coming, but it still proved itself to be a struggle.

“It’s not if we go online, it’s when we go online,” fifth grade teacher Melissa Gibbons said.

For the most part, students enjoyed online learning. They took advantage of the opportunity to get their assignments done early. Then they had more free time and could work at their own pace.

“It’s hard because the teachers are not there to help you,” online sixth grader Sebby Fossier said. “But you are given a lot of resources. So in a way, it is easier and harder.”

Teachers had to adapt to teaching the same lessons using different approaches and tools. Much of the students’ work was on Chromebooks. Teachers and students became more familiar with apps such as Canvas, Kami, and Kahoot to make virtual learning possible.

“The ‘what’ we do in kindergarten is the same, the ‘how’ we do it has changed,” online kindergarten teacher Leslie Perrigo said. 

A teacher crouches next to a student, both masked, to look over an assignment.

Both online and on-site, not all the changes were bad. Students used to eat lunch in the cafeteria, which was crowded and noisy. But with social distancing protocols, classes had to eat lunch in their classrooms. Many students liked this more, as some teachers would play movies or funny videos during lunch. Students also got to know their class better.

“You get to form a stronger bond with your classmates,” sixth grade student Greta Sanftner said.

Though a lot has been hard this year, everyone has something positive to say about it whether it is about lunch in the classroom or getting to know their class and considering them practically family. Even with all the changes, everyone has done an outstanding job cooperating and following the rules. All of Westridge tried to shine some light on the virus, and our happy memories got us through the hard times.

“I’ve been impressed by how spectacular students have done with wearing masks,” Gifted and Talented Program teacher Nancy Foley said. “They’ve been rockstars!”

Westridge did its best to overcome this big upset in the learning community. The school now looks forward to what is coming in the future, but everyone is careful not to forget what it was like in the past. Although classes can’t do the old traditions, new ones have been made. 

With coronavirus, students can’t be as close to each other, but they get closer to normal every day.

Many people wish we could go back to how it was before, but if we all try, maybe the future will be even better. 

A collage of three photos of two students smiling, working on Chromebooks, and posing with a district employee.

Editor’s Note: This news item contains original writing from first-time journalists Soleil Aldini and Katherine Stone, fifth grade students at Westridge Elementary. The students worked with the WDMCS School/Community Relations staff for several weeks to report, write, and edit the story. We are excited to highlight elementary students as authors of a WDMCS news item for the first time. Especially this year, it is important to give students the chance to share their stories in their own words, no matter their age and level of experience. 

When Westridge Elementary Gifted and Talented Program teacher Nancy Foley reached out about students potentially writing a story, we did not know what to expect — and we are so impressed with Soleil and Katherine’s efforts and their final article. Thank you to Soleil, Katherine, the Aldini and Stone families, Nancy Foley, and the Westridge students and staff who completed interviews with these student writers. 

Photos: Nancy Foley and WDMCS School/Community Relations.