Only empty desks and classrooms occupy Anna Maria Elementary in Holmes Beach.
Instead of kids rushing about and fifth-grade graduation assemblies, the COVID-19 pandemic has emptied the hallways.
AME parents and students — and also AME staff — wonder when they will be back in session and what will have changed?
Since late March, AME students, as well as many students across the country, have practiced distance learning, studying at home via online study tools.
“Never in my career as an educator would I have ever guessed we would be dealing with these additional challenges in learning,” AME principal Jackie Featherston wrote The Islander in an email.
She praised “educators and families for rising to the occasion of making sure our students continue their education to the best of their ability.”
Featherston said she’s heard from teachers who believe they’re becoming better educators because they’ve had to quickly adapt to the virtual platform and find new resources to support instruction and families.
Featherston also said parents have a deeper understanding of how children learn and of their kids’ struggles and strengths.
Still, for AME’s fifth-graders, the academic year will end this month without the usual class activities and events, including a class trip and awards ceremony to mark their transition to middle school.
Traditionally on the last day of school, the AME student body, staff and principal line the halls to clap, hug, wave and deliver a tearful goodbye to the fifth-graders as they leave the building for the last time.
It’s rare to see a dry eye during the event.
The 2019-20 fifth-grade class will be celebrated with a twist on the old tradition — a drive-thru “car awards” parade on campus on the last day of school.
On Thursday, May 28, 10 a.m.-noon, fifth-graders are expected to arrive in cars and other vehicles for a motorcade through the bus loop “to drop off books and computers, and will then proceed to the car line to pick up their awards and enjoy a very special farewell and surprise,” Featherston said.
The end of the year also will bring the retirement of first-grade teacher Toni Lashway, who has taught at AME for 33 years.
Lashway will be missed by staff and students.
Also, second-grade teacher Sandra Fischer, who was AME’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year in 2019-20, will transfer to Bayshore Elementary.
Fischer had the least seniority at AME, which is losing two teaching units in the 2020-21 year.
The Manatee County School District increased the number of students per class in each grade and, as a result, AME, along with Stewart Elementary and several other schools in the district are losing teachers.
“We will open the school year with one kindergarten class, one first-grade class, one second-grade class and two third- through fifth-grade classes,” Featherston said of the 2020-21 year.
Registration is open for the next year.
Parents can pick up registration packets at the front door of the school, where they can make inquiries on the intercom.
Alternatively, parents can request registration information online.
The 2020-21 year is set to start for students Monday, Aug. 10, but the date could be delayed due to COVID-19.
Featherston said three scenarios are being discussed: full-time with students in the AME building; full-time e-learning or a rotation of half the students in class and half at home.
“I am expecting that staff with personal protective equipment will conduct a daily screening at the entrance of the school which includes a temperature check,” Featherston said.
If anyone has a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, cough or shortness of breath, they would not be admitted.
Also, no volunteers or visitors would be allowed entry to the school during the pandemic restrictions.
Hourly hand-washing, social distancing and other safe practices are planned to help students return to brick-and-mortar classrooms.
“I do believe the majority of us are looking forward to much more normalcy in our future,” said Featherston.