LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – As COVID cases spike across the nation, all eyes are on the upcoming school year.
For some, that starts sooner than others.
Students at eStem charter schools in Little Rock are preparing to return to class after a tumultuous summer.
Around 70% of students were virtual last semester due to the pandemic, with many kids returning to campus this fall for the first time in nearly a year.
Although social distancing and sanitization efforts remain, some of the precautions have changed. Those 12 and up now have access to vaccines, and public schools are no longer able to mandate masks.
The charter school spent its last days of summer doing it all it can to prepare students for a safe return. They held a mobile vaccination clinic at the eStem high school, where eligible students, their families, and staff were encouraged to get vaccinated.
An organizer said around 50 people had signed up beforehand and with just about an hour left, more than 30 had been vaccinated.
Lindsey Wilson brought her son, Ayden, to get the shot. Ayden is the oldest of four and is heading into the 7th grade. Wilson says the shot is critical for her family, and Ayden is the first one old enough to get it.
“His little sister actually has CS, Cystic Fibrosis,” Wilson explained, “so I think that’s very important. I want to keep her covered.”
Wilson said vaccines were the best choice for keeping all her kids safe, “along with the masks,” she added.
Currently, eStem is unable to mandate masks for its students, but the school will “strongly recommend” the face coverings when things kick off Tuesday.
Johnecia Howard, assistant coo, advises kids to think of masks as another item on the school supply list, saying, “wear a mask, bring your supplies, and get ready to work!” Howard says the campus felt empty last year and this summer, with the return of kids a welcome change from the ’20-’21 school year.
“Hearing laughing voices and seeing kids run through the hallway is definitely what we’re looking forward to,” Howard smiled.
She adds eStem will continue to monitor and adjust as COVID cases change and will keep a close eye on this week’s legislative session regarding mask mandates.
Parents at eStem are also encouraged to watch out for emails and texts from school with any changes.