Students at Whitehall City Schools' Kae Avenue Elementary School who climbed into cars and buses or walked home March 13 had little or no idea they'd never see their classrooms again.

They left behind headphones, jackets, books and other property that teachers and parents are now beginning to collect.

Gov. Mike DeWine ordered the state's public school districts closed for a three-week period beginning March 16 to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus; he then extended the closure to May 1 and, ultimately, for the remainder of the academic year.

Carole Bryant, a kindergarten teacher at Kae Avenue, was at the school April 28 to bundle up students' possessions and go about the process of getting it back in the hands of parents and children.

Each teacher at Kae Avenue -- two at a time and for a two-hour period -- returned to the school during the past few weeks for that purpose.

Students' watercolor artwork -- unseen for more than a month -- also was gathered and put into bags with students' names on them and then placed outside the front door of the school for pickup, Bryant said.

Although Bryant said she understands all the necessary changes the pandemic has caused, "it's still not finishing kindergarten the right way," she said.

"There was just no closure to kindergarten," said Bryant, who expects students who return next year will want to go back to the classroom they knew instead of a new first-grade classroom.

Despite the unprecedented circumstances, Bryant and other Whitehall teachers have done all they can to bring a sense of normalcy to this school year.

Students across Ohio have been learning at home via myriad online tools since March.

While Bryant is wrapping up her 30th year as a teacher, 5-year-old Avery Torres is finishing her first as a student.

Amy Danflous, Avery's mother, said videos from her teacher have helped her daughter acclimate to circumstances that are difficult to comprehend.

"Avery had a routine," Danflous said. "She saw Mrs. Bryant every (weekday) and, all of a sudden, she wasn't there. It was hard for me to explain that.

"I loved the relationship (Avery) had with Mrs. Bryant and the videos help keep that going."

In the videos, Bryant greets her students each by name and, when appropriate, includes other personal touches, such as singing "Happy Birthday."

Bryant also has arranged several live events through the Zoom videoconferencing platform that allow her students to see and hear each other.

"The kids need to see each other's faces," said Bryant, adding that at the kindergarten level, the development of social skills is as important as academic instruction.

But the latter, too, is paramount to lay the groundwork for future learning, Bryant said.

On April 18 and 19, the district distributed 475 devices and provided 53 families with hotspots to reach students without internet service, Superintendent Brian Hamler said.

Among those who received a device was Avery.

"Mrs. Bryant saw a fall-off in some of Avery's work," Danflous said.

She said Avery had limited access to her lessons because her older sister needed her laptop computer for school and Danflous had returned to work, preventing Avery from using her cellphone.

That problem was solved when the district issued devices in mid-April to students, including Avery, she said.

"Now we have quietly begun to settle into a new kind of routine," Danflous said, including she and her daughter retrieving assignments online and through a mobile app called Class Dojo.

For Bryant, a new routine has developed, too, which includes being creative with at-home lesson plans and working later than usual.

"Some people think a digital world is harder for an older teacher, but I have been brave in the technological world," she said. "I've embraced it and I love trying new things."

As the parents and guardians of some students work during the day, Bryant said she has strived to be available to help them in the evenings.

Kelly Rivers, principal at Kae Avenue, said Bryant and the staff at the school have been "amazing" in adapting to the sudden changes.

"Carole has done a lot of amazing things with her students to engage them, from spirit weeks to Zoom classroom meetings to blended-learning activities that are personalized for each student," Rivers said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo