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Cold Interrupts Classes, in an Interrupted Year

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Angela Penticuff has not met her 27 first graders in person. But at this point, she said, she barely notices.

“I feel like I know them,” she said. “I know the toys they like. I know their pets. I know the clothes they wear. I know how fidgety they are. I know what makes them laugh. It’s almost like the screen’s not there.”

Penticuff, 53, opted to teach remotely last summer. She has significant health issues — an autoimmune disease and asthma — and didn’t want to take any chances. Her principal in Lee’s Summit, a suburb of Kansas City, Mo., let her move from the art room to a virtual first grade.

She uses all the same tricks that she would in a real classroom. Her students still have rug time, except now they have to un-mute to share. They celebrated Valentine’s Day with a dance party and goodies, although she drove three hours around town to deliver them. They even have a class pet: an old bunny puppet named “Carrot” that “lives” in her backyard.

“If we’re doing something neat, they ask: ‘Can Carrot watch us do this?’” she said.

First grade is a critical year for literacy, and she focuses on reading and numbers skills. (In math, Carrot features prominently; the kids regularly try to stump him.)

It’s also a big year for social development. Mischief matters now more than ever. Recently, when one student started doodling on his dresser with marker, several of his friends un-muted themselves to warn him: “‘Dude, you’re going to get grounded — you’ve got to stop!’” she recalled.

“I want them to end the year knowing how to read confidently within their own level,” she said, “and just to be good people to each other, and to be kind, and to care about the feelings of others.”

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