Durham elementary students return to classrooms for 1st time in year

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- It was a chilly start to the day in Durham, but what happened at at least one elementary school will warm your heart.

A sort of pep rally welcomed students as they arrived at Southwest Elementary School.

The brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha came together to encourage and cheer on the students for their first day of in-person class in a year.

"I'm excited about that pep rally! I hope the students feel a lot of joy," Durham School Board Chair Bettina Umstead said. "I know there's some anxiousness about returning to in-person learning, but I hope that while seeing all these caring adults there'll be some joy about returning to school.

But the Alpha Phi Alpha brothers went one step further; they recognized a pair of teachers, Antoinette Tate and Katie Kizzy, and gave them gifts to use to enhance their classrooms.
The hope is that the young students will be inspired and grow up to become tomorrow's leaders.

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It was a chilly start to the day in Durham, but what happened at at least one elementary school will warm your heart.

"It's definitely a great feeling from the brotherhood, to be able to come out to the community and make a contribution in any way that we can," Justin Sessoms said. "Just make an impact, and show the students that we're there for them in each and every way throughout this process."

More than 400 students returned to Pearsontown Elementary a year into the pandemic. That is more than half of the student body. That's more than half the student body.
ABC11 heard from parents, students and teachers about how everything went.

"I'm feeling pretty confident about tomorrow," said parent Stacy Ramos. Ramos breathed a sigh relief after picking up her daughter Cristina from school.

"It was a little overwhelming this morning when I brought my daughter. It was very well organized but it was still overwhelming not knowing how the day was going to progress. If she was going to be ok," said Ramos.

ABC11 cameras captured Pearsontown Elementary students social distancing and sanitizing. There were up to 14 students per class.

Administrators call it the bubble, because it's also where they eat breakfast, lunch and study.

For Stacy's daughter, the most challenging part of her day was navigating playtime during a pandemic.

"When we were outside at recess - me and my friend, we were going to go on the equipment but one of the teachers kept saying, 'You can't go on the equipment,' so we just had to walk around, we couldn't go on the swing. And now my feet hurt," Cristina Ramos said.

Today was also an adjustment for 7-year-old Joshua Miguen.

Tim: "Was it different from last year?"
Joshua: "Yes."

Tim: "How so?"
Joshua: "Because there were no masks on the first day. And we had masks on."

Joshua's mother was worried he would hug his classmates and take off his mask.

"I'm exhausted and it's only 2:05,"said teacher Brittany Novak.

It's been a busy day for first grade teacher Brittany Novak pivoting from virtual to in-person learning. In addition to teaching, she's also putting students at ease about being back in a classroom.

"Their focus honestly has been a little bit better. I can say that. Just this morning--engaging and participating in discussions," said Novak. "They've definitely been a lot more open and focused."

Administrators say these strict classroom bubbles are necessary for now.

"Then as they get comfortable in those spaces we will begin to expand and move around a little more," said Principal Rodriguez Teal.
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