Katelyn Whelchel is a 2015 graduate of Perry High School, and a 2019 degree earner from Buena Vista University.
She is also one of six kindergarten teachers at Perry Elementary School, where her first year in front of a class has been not quite what she had anticipated.
“They do a good job of preparing you for most of the challenges you will face, but no one could have seen this coming,” Whelchel said of her collegiate instruction. “I had in my mind how the second half of the year was going to go, and then this happened.”
The ‘this’ in question is, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of all Iowa schools for at least three weeks, or April 13 at the earliest.
“At first we began preparing in case we might have to take some precautions, then the whole thing began spiraling out of control,” Whelchel said. “The main thing for me is to try and make the kids remain confident that things are under control, because they understand this is not normal, but they can’t really understand why, and the confusion can be scary.”
Whelchel has 20 students in her class. She coordinated with the other kindergarten teachers on what materials and ideas should be included in the packets sent home to parents, with some matters classroom specific.
“It is amazing how many resources and activities are available online,” she said. “We have set up a Facebook page for my classroom that the parents can access to keep the students going. We wanted this to be as easy and as low-stress as possible for the parents while continuing to make learning fun for the kids. One thing we all did was to pass out as many books as possible.”
Keeping the attention of 20 five and six-year old students focused on learning is a test of its own in the best of situations, but doing so with the kids having all the distractions of being at home — and not in a formal classroom setting — takes the challenge to another level.
“It has to be fun and something that makes them curious or excited or you won’t get anywhere,” Whelchel said. “I know all the teachers are putting a lot of effort in on how we can help the parents keep the children engaged. We are not doing in new instruction, or trying to teach them new things at this time, but we certainly want to reinforce what the gains they have made and keep good habits going.”
Whelchel said she her original career intentions were to follow a path based on accounting, but the itch to be in front of a classroom never went away.
“When I was in high school I did some mentoring at the middle school and some other volunteer work, and it was very rewarding,” she recalled. “That feeling just kept growing until I knew it was something I had to do.”
“I knew I wanted to be in an elementary setting, and I really wanted to be back in Perry,” Whelchel said. “When the opportunity came I was so excited, and am so happy to be here.”
Whelchel says she misses her students and thinks of them every day, hoping both they and their families remain healthy.
“Hopefully the situation will improve and we can get back in class for a few weeks before the end of the (school) year,” she said. “It would be nice to have a more formal ending to the year, to make it as normal as possible. One way or another this has certainly been a year no one is ever going to forget.”