New Girl: Elizabeth Sustaita

Elizabeth Sustaita

With writing about the schools around the lower valley, I think about the kids who will be forever shaped by this year with the pandemic pushing schools into a completely online teaching model.

I think about the kindergartners who did not get to experience that first day of early morning excitement — walking down the hallway, holding their parent’s hand while meeting their peers and teacher, saying goodbye to their parents, and finally, spending their first day for at least the next 12 years on their own.

I think about my own niece, Andie Jo, who has just started first grade and how she only got half of that experience when she was put into emergency online learning.

When schools were closed in the beginning of March, she was starting to get into the swing of things. She had just finished a spring concert and we all went out to eat as a family, praising her for singing in front dozens of audience members.

One week life was normal for her, going to school, seeing her friends, talking to me about numbers and the next week, we were all struggling to figure out how to survive during the COVID-19 shut down.

While the whole valley discussed the future of children and what education may look like, Andie Jo just kept singing her sweet soprano songs and, being the little inventor she is, making her “creations” with sticks and string.

Jojo, as my family and I fondly refer to her as, has been told about the pandemic openly by her mom, my sister, Veronica. Jojo grasps that this event is preventing her from going to school, but she doesn’t feel the gravity and the implications it will have on her future like older children or adults do.

I believe that is the saving grace for Jojo and our young students.

As the first full week concluded, I can see that she’s learning well despite the challenges.

She continues singing, this time songs she’s learned in her remote classroom. She is getting better at sounding out and spelling words, and she’s also showed me how to sing “Happy Birthday” twice while washing your hands, “like my teacher showed me,” to make sure they’re clean.

Whether we agree with how schools are teaching or not, the students of Sunnyside are learning, and they are moving forward.

Watching my niece grow in spite of the obstacles 2020 keeps throwing at us gives me hope for our kids and for their future.

If they can thrive — not just survive — through this, they’ll be able to do anything.

Elizabeth Sustaita can be contacted at 509-837-4500, ext. 114 or email esustaita@sunnysidesun.com.

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