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Class during COVID: Van Buren Elementary

NBC15 launches year long project following classrooms across our viewing area to see how COVID-19 impacts students and schools
Published: Sep. 22, 2020 at 10:59 AM CDT
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JANESVILLE, Wis. (WMTV) -Van Buren Elementary is the largest of the 12 elementary schools in Janesville. With more than 300 students choosing to come to class and about 90 going virtual, the new school year is off to a good start. But students and staff know that during this pandemic, anything can happen.

“The biggest challenge is planning for the unknown,” said Stephanie Pajerski, principal at Van Buren.

Every student is required to wear a mask in the building, social distancing is being enforced, and visitors are not allowed inside the school. Pajerski said school officials spent the summer tirelessly planning for the school year and now it’s time to get to work.

“I think you get to the point, you know, like before a big game where you got all this anxiety and you’ve prepped and you’ve done everything you can possibly do and you just need to play,” she said. “So that you can feel like ‘we can do this, it’s not so bad’ and the anxiety goes down,”

“Every day we are here, I think it’s a bonus,” said Becky Carter, a fifth-grade teacher.

Carter says she’s been stressing one message to her students since school started.

“The ‘why’… why we wear the masks, why we wash our hands, sanitizing… why we need to sit in our spot,” she said. “We have the older kids and they get it and they understand that if we don’t do that, we will be distance learning,”

For fellow teacher Amanda Malchow, telling the students to stay away from each other has been the hardest part.

“When kids were having problems, other kids have this empathy that they want to go to help out their classmates and I just having to remind them that they can’t touch someone else’s iPad or be in their space,” said Malchow.

“I like it. I’d rather be at school with the mask than at home,” said fifth grade student Trae Fornette. Fornette says if he stayed at home for virtual earning, there would be too many distractions.

“It’s like at home, these activities at home, like Xbox and I need to be here so I can have someone that can help me,” he said.

Fellow fifth grader Fabi Discua Maldonado says staying away from her friends has been tough.

“I try to go help my friends by their desks, but they yell at me,” she said with a laugh. “We need to follow the rules so we can keep going to school,”

As the students and staff adjust to the new rules, they’re also keeping the faith.

“I’m hopeful I guess it’s just like anything you just don’t know,” said Carter.

“We have to have hope. We’ve made it through week one and I think that’s what we have to do is go day-by-day week-by-week,” added Pajerski.

Copyright 2020 WMTV. All rights reserved.

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