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Valley teachers close quiet classrooms amidst coronavirus pandemic

Teachers sent heartfelt goodbyes to students after schools closed abruptly because of coronavirus.
Credit: Jennifer Clonts

GILBERT, Ariz. — As teachers wrapped up the school year, many of them cleaned out empty classrooms they never expected they would return to without their students.

Still, educators like Jennifer Clonts found closure while looking ahead with hope to next year.

“Last day in my classroom and I’m going to check it out and close everything up," Clonts said as she walked around her classroom cell phone in hand, documenting the 2019-2020 school year ending in an unpredictable way.

“(It's) Just kind of frozen in time," Clonts said.

It wasn’t the spring semester dedicated educators like Nina Dial envisioned.

"This is my classroom today on my last day of school, empty and quiet," Dial said.

But academic learning went on from home across Arizona in the midst of a pandemic.

"Great opportunity for me as a teacher to get to learn more about the online approach to learning," Clonts said.

Teachers like Skip Allen embedded familiar faces wherever they could.

“I used a lot of puppets in my regular teaching, and I also used them in my Google slides as well to keep the kids engaged," Allen said.

And life lessons were absorbed too, Ms. Wendt explained.

“We’ve powered through, we’ve persevered, we’ve been kind," Wendt said.

"We’ve been all of those things that we teach about all year long and it’s really been wonderful to see it in action.”

Connections were kept and memories were saved on screens, in classrooms like Melanie Esquivias'. 

“Just know that I love you and miss you so much and I hope you enjoyed saying goodbye to our classroom," Esquivias said.

While most teachers plan to return next year, retirees like Rosanne Carlson packed up quietly after 35 years.

“It was very sad to shut off my lights for the last time and close my door and not have my students there with me, and let me give them a final big hug and wish them well for 4th grade," Carlson said. 

"So I hope I can do that now. I love you Porter 3rd grade Room 23.”

Arizona’s educators stayed online for their students. It's a year history books will open to for decades to come and one these teachers will never forget.

“Those kids will always be a part of me," Mrs. Clonts said. 

"They’re always going to be my kids and that’s really what all of us teachers say, that even though they’re not here in this classroom, they’ll always be my kids.”