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Tumwater teacher says in-person classes are 'best way for kids to learn'

“This is the best way for kids to learn,” said Erin Gehrke, who teaches fifth grade at Tumwater’s Michael T. Simmons Elementary.

TUMWATER, Wash. — Eighteen months after the coronavirus pandemic closed her classroom, a Tumwater teacher celebrated the first day of school on Monday. 

Erin Gehrke said she made remote learning work last year during the pandemic, but she's glad to have students back in-person, full-time again.

“This is the best way for kids to learn,” said Gehrke, “This is what I signed up to do!”

Gehrke teaches fifth grade at Tumwater’s Michael T. Simmons Elementary. On Monday, she welcomed back her class of 22 students. Everyone is required to wear a face mask while in her classroom due to COVID-19 safety guidelines. 

Before the year started last year, when campuses were closed because of the pandemic, Gehrke met her students at their homes. She wanted them to have some in-person interaction with her before they began attending classes via Zoom.

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While in-person instruction resumed in the spring, four days a week, Gehrke said not all of her students returned to campus. She said she feels like many more have returned this fall, but said there will be a learning curve for everyone readjusting to full-time, in-person instruction.

“They went out of the classroom as third graders, they’re coming back as fifth graders. That’s a disparity,” said Gehrke.

While Gehrke is vaccinated against COVID-19, none of her students are old enough to receive a vaccine. But Gehrke said that does not bother her.

“Doesn’t even cross my mind. Yeah, I don’t care,” said Gehrke, “I personally look at it like, I’m a frontline worker, I teach children. I am going to step up and answer that call.”