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Dillingham Elementary students excited for school ⁠— despite another unusual year

Izzy Ross/KDLG

Dillingham schools had a bumpy start. Just days into the new year, several students tested positive for COVID-19. But despite some changes, kids are excited to be back.

On a bright, sunny day at the end of August, kids in Dillingham elementary play during recess. It's one of the first days back in school.

Sophia Vo just started first grade. She turns 7 this week, and she's excited to learn new things this year.

"Because I like doing math so I’m really excited to do math because math is my most favorite in school," she said.

She's not sure what she will learn in math this year.

“Maybe harder math and stuff," she said. "I already did like 90 plus seven."

Last year, the schools shut down multiple times due to the pandemic. Now, in-person learning is back — with some precautions in place.

The city’s latest emergency order requires students and staff to wear masks. But they can take them off for recess, athletic activities and gym.

Credit Izzy Ross/KDLG
Fourth-graders Kenya Davis and Whitney Brown at recess. Friday, Aug. 27, 2021.

As school starts back in person, everyone is getting used to new classes.

“I’m excited to be in fourth grade," said Kenya Davis, who is 9. “I’m excited to see all the teachers, see a new teacher from last year, and now this year. I’m happy about — that I can see all my friends again, and that I can finally learn more. I just miss school,” she said.

This year, Davis wants to learn more math and art.

“I want to learn more multiplication and division. I’m looking forward to doing art," she said. "I like making pictures and painting.”

Superintendent Jason Johnson said the school district hopes to make this year as close to normal as possible. Barring a community-wide shutdown, the district plans to keep the school open.

“It’s really been a mindset from last April that school’s going to stay open this year," Johnson said. "We as a staff, and a leadership team, and a school board agree that kids need to be in school.”

Credit Izzy Ross/KDLG
Kids play on the spider web during recess. Friday, Aug. 27, 2021.

No matter the grade, lots of students are just happy to be back. Cooper Roenfanz, 7, is another first-grader who likes being in the classroom.

“‘Cause you can eat with more people and see your old friends. And you can play with your old friends, too. I like that about this year,” he said.

Six-year-old Conlan Maines agreed.

“I love school and it’s nice," he said. “I love my class and I love my teacher, Ms. Ruby.”

While a lot of the kids are happy to come back to school, some, like first-grader Kyla Harris, are here for the first time. Her family just moved to town.

"It feels a little different," Harris said.

But she's excited to dive into the year.

"I like learning about math. I like learning about numbers and my letters,” she said. 

The start to the school year has been a little rough. Four kids tested positive for COVID-19 this week — three in the elementary school and one in the middle-high school. The elementary classes with the cases were sent home for 10 days. Still, for now, the school has no plans to go back to virtual learning.

Credit Izzy Ross/KDLG
Dillingham elementary kids on their first day of school. Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021.

Contact the author at or 907-842-2200.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.
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