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Alma kindergarten class makes it work

By Kevin Taylor

Alma Schools 

 Ms. Ellifrits Class

This time a year ago, Alma kindergarten teacher Melissa Ellifrits was dealing with the typical late-semester sickness that comes with kids who still believe in the tooth fairy. (Never mind, when it comes to Santa Clause). 


Things are far different heading into the Christmas Holiday season in 2020. Sickness is actually down. 


But that’s about the only subtle change for the veteran Alma primary teacher. 


"This time last year, from half of November until now, I had half of my class missing," Ellifrits said. "This year, (sickness) is way down — I guess it's the extra precautions that we're taking."


Their flush faces covered with different colors of facemasks, Ellifrits' kindergarten students are scrolling through their Chromebooks as the clock closes in on 10:30 a.m. Each student is locked into the screen before them; there is no chatter.



Almost time for lunch.


It's been awkward the first four months of school, Ellifrits said. But the Class of 2033 is doing things those before them have been for decades. 


Reading, writing, subtracting, and social distancing. (Oh, don't forget the facemasks). 


Ellifrits believes social distancing, between the masks and constant hand sanitizing, has cut down on overcall sickness. 


With the blessing from Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Arkansas schools followed strict socially distanced guidelines to allow the first semester to run its course.


And, while athletic programs are grateful for their chance to play, it's equally important for kids just learning to find their way.


"I think it's everything," Ellifrits said. "I think we're making it work. I think it's everything for their social, emotional, and well being."


Ellifrits currently has 18 students in the class, she said.



It's now 10:35 a.m. as kids, almost on cue, prepare to have their hands sprayed with hand sanitizer.


"It's been more different than any other year," Ellifrits said. "There's a lot of challenges. With social distancing, it makes it hard. They're (students) very loving and want a hug, and I'm not going to turn down a hug.


"(But) it's definitely challenging trying to keep them socially distanced while trying to have some type of normalcy."


Going outside, even on cold December afternoons, is as important as ever — but comes with some restrictions.


"We go with our communities, which is a first-grade class and a second-grade class," Ellifrits said. "The playground is sectioned out into three different areas. One day we may get the swings and the slides ... we rotate each day."



Alma afforded students an opportunity to work remotely — something a lot of the older kids have benefitted from.


"At this age, I just don't think they learn virtually," Ellifrits said. "They can do some stuff online, but I just think it's everything for them to be here and be actively learning at school. Even though we have to be creative in the way we do stuff, which means they can't work in groups, they're still able to learn from other kids.


"We try to do as much as we can."