Kids cheered as they walked from the Ebb Valley Elementary School building to the buses at 1 p.m. Tuesday. Once boarded, they poked their heads out the window and yelled goodbye to those still outside.
The ambiance consisted of bus engines rumbling, repeated horns blaring and high-pitched voices as departing students waved eagerly to the lined-up staff who waved back. It was the last day for students at Carroll County Public Schools at the end of a most unusual year, but other than the masks, it looked like a normal last-day sendoff.
Principal Justin Watts said there was positive energy in the building that day.
“I think it’s definitely a happier feeling,” he said as he compared it to last year. He added they were able to have closure this year and people could say goodbye in person.
Last year, the school buildings closed unexpectedly in March due to the pandemic, and students did not return to the building until the following school year. The year began fully virtual with CCPS school buildings opening two days during hybrid learning for a few weeks in the fall. The hybrid of two days a week for most students resumed after students returned from winter break and then went to four days a week back in March of this year. By then, some 75% of students were learning in-person.
Students and staff adapted to new health and safety protocols, learning from home and a virtual platform.
“I think people are just ready for a break to relax,” Watts said, adding that educators worked hard through the transitions.
Despite the hard work, Watts still had a favorite memory: “Being able to connect with the kids.”
Usually the school’s 500 students all start at once. However, with students trickling in from virtual to hybrid, he said there were more opportunities to connect with students one-on-one.
Superintendent Steve Lockard had used the words “challenging,” “complex,” “frustrating” and “hopeful” to describe the year 2020. He said on Tuesday he’d drop the word “frustrating” to describe the 2020-2021 school year “because the last several months have been a lot more hopeful” when it comes to a closer-to-normal school year in the fall.
Lockard said there was a feeling of relief on the last day of school because of what staff members were able to accomplish.
“It’s really, in a lot of ways, something short of a miracle what we were able to do this year,” he said about returning students to the classroom. “I commend all of our staff for making this happen.”
He said everyone, like custodians, support staff, teachers and administrators, did whatever it took to keep things moving forward.
“None of us wish to live another year like that,” he said, adding especially not students and families.
“It was like super crazy,” Grace Calvert, an Ebb Valley fifth-grader said. She said they started in-person “then virtual, hybrid, then virtual, then hybrid.”
She added they still “did a lot of fun things” this year, like the fifth grade picnic.
“We had to, like, do a lot of different schedules, but we got through it,” Natalie Winters, fellow fifth-grader and safety monitor with Calvert, said.
As lines of kids were escorted by staff to their buses, Jodie Anderson, an instructional assistant, said she was going to miss them.
“I started with them in kindergarten,” she said. “I watch them grow up and see them leave for middle school.”
A student ran up to Jen Devers, the school nurse, while outside and gave her an envelope with “Nurse Jen” on the back.
“It’s been crazy this year,” she said. “I’m just happy to be back in the building with the kids.”
Devers added she had mixed emotions about the year ending. It’s her last year attending the same school as her youngest, who just finished fifth grade. It’s also the year her second-oldest graduated from high school.
A few kids ran up to her to giver her a hug and a parent called Devers to the car to hand her two gifts bags. One for her and one for Anderson.
“I’m very close to a lot of these kids,” she said just before hugging another student and saying, “Tell your sister I said ‘hi,’ I miss her.”
Standing near the parent drop off lane was Brian Partridge, a parent and spouse to a school employee.
“It’s been a challenge to say the least,” he said, adding parents had an additional involvement in the school life this school year.
He said teachers have been flexible and his three kids did well. They learned, grew and became more resilient, he added.
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As the last bus pulled off, school staff waved then cheered and clapped. Nikki Patterson, an instructional assistant, started playing “The Final Countdown” by Europe while wearing a shirt that read, “Another school year, the longest school year ever.” The word “Survivor” was in the middle.