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Worries, Excitement As Boston's Youngest Students Return To School03:12
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Program manager for the East Boston Countdown to Kindergarten Josette Williams welcomes families to the East Boston Public Library for the event. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Program manager for the East Boston Countdown to Kindergarten Josette Williams welcomes families to the East Boston Public Library for the event. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Usually, a new school year in East Boston begins with a parade for new kindergartners. But with the highest infection rates in the city, officials had to adapt.

"Welcome, welcome, please come this way!" Josette Williams yells into a megaphone outside the East Boston Public Library. She's program manager for the district's annual "Countdown To Kindergarten" event.

It’s stationary this year with balloons, free T-shirts and school supply giveaways.

"Congratulations are in order for all of our incoming kindergarteners," Williams shouted. "Let’s hear it!"

Williams is doing her best to try to make it feel celebratory. It's a difficult balance to make families feel welcome while also making sure everyone keeps moving to keep the crowd size down. She reminds people to social distance.

Families line up at for the Countdown to Kindergarten in East Boston. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Families line up at for the Countdown to Kindergarten in East Boston. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Despite the fully remote start to the school year, a lot of parents and kids are looking forward to the new year.

Jasmine Velasquez’s son is just about to start kindergarten at the James Otis Elementary School in East Boston.

"He's excited that he's five and he's starting what he calls 'big boy school' now," she explained. But it’s hard not to feel some anxiety because her son is a very visual learner, and like all Boston students, he’ll be taking classes from home.

"I'm not sure what to expect for this upcoming year now that everything is online, interacting with other kids and his teachers and everything," Velasquez said. "So it does make me a little bit nervous that he's going to be seeing them through a computer screen."

For kindergarten teachers like Ulana Ainsworth, the stress right now is also high. She’s been busy trying to find good ways to keep her kids at the Curtis Guild Elementary school engaged at home.

"I'm just thinking, like, 'OK, what [does] a center time look like at home?' " Ainsworth said. "Building is gonna be whatever materials you can find at home. Are you going to build with cereal boxes and cans? Because not everyone has nice blocks or LEGOs in their house."

She’s also trying to prepare for some kids to come back to the classroom in mid-October, when the district plans to phase in kindergartners for hybrid learning.

Curtis Guild Elementary School Kindergarten teacher Ulana Ainsworth (Photo courtesy Ulana Ainsworth)
Curtis Guild Elementary School Kindergarten teacher Ulana Ainsworth (Photo courtesy Ulana Ainsworth)

"Everything needs to be able to be sterilized and so forth," said Ainsworth.

She explained it’s taking a lot of work to keep her classroom and curriculum in line with the new health and safety requirements.

"So it's been a lot of printing and laminating and thinking about making kits so kids can use similar games [as their classmates] but they can play independently," Ainsworth said.

While there have been times when getting ready for the year has been overwhelming, Ainsworth said she’s mostly excited to see a class full of kids again.

"Just getting to meet them and interact with them and ask them questions and have really good conversations," she said.

All of which are things that won’t change whether her class is online or in person.

This segment aired on September 21, 2020.

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Carrie Jung Twitter Reporter, Edify
Carrie is a senior education reporter with Edify.

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