SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) – Language Arts teacher Tracie Robinson sat cross-legged in the hallway outside her classroom at Memorial Middle School. A list of names and locker numbers lay to her left and a stack of paper bags to her right. She pulled photos of smiling teenagers off locker walls, balanced stacks of long checked out library books, removed old gym shoes and quickly tossed one partially eaten lunch.

“It almost felt like a time capsule,” Robinson said. “It’s like they just walked out and should have come back the next day.”

Teachers across the Sioux Falls School District are returning to clear their classrooms for the end of the school year. After the pandemic created an abrupt transition to remote learning this year, educators earned the extra task of cleaning out students’ desks and lockers as well, the Argus Leader reported.

“That was just a little bit nostalgic,” said Liz Magnuson, third-grade teacher at Rosa Parks Elementary. “It was like, oh yeah, this person loved their flashy erasers. You just see little bits of them in their desks.”

In a typical year, teachers spend a few days together after the last day of school cleaning their rooms and tying up loose ends. Jamie Van Sloten, social studies teacher at Washington High School, likens it to a celebration. Music plays from various classrooms, snacks are provided and colleagues yell and laugh with each other through the halls.

This year, due to social distancing restrictions, Van Sloten missed out on that tradition. Each school had a schedule for their teachers to ensure no more than four people would be in any wing of the building at one time.

“At Washington High School, we like to consider ourselves a family,” said Van Sloten. “We don’t get to close out that year together either. That’s what’s breaking my heart as well.”

Walking into a school building now comes with an almost unsettling feeling of stillness and quiet. It gives teachers plenty of time alone with their own thoughts.

“I really thought about the fact that it’s a work day, it’s a school day right now,” said Van Sloten, crumpling posters from student projects into a recycling bin. “When none of them are here, and it’s a Wednesday. It is an eerie feeling.”

As Magnuson covered her bulletin boards with a sheet, she said her thoughts shifted from the emptiness in her own classroom to wondering how her students were faring at home. For her, the transition to teaching remotely has not been easy. In-person interaction is an essential part of how she helps her students.

“For some kids, school really is the best place for them, and when you work with them and they’re not in school, it feels like you’re working with a little bit of a different kid,” she said. “It just reminds you that for some kids, school is their whole world and a happy place for them.”

Each school set up a day for students to pick up the items they had left behind, so teachers got one last chance to say goodbye. While it was a far cry from a real last-day-of-school celebration, the moment of handing a paper bag through a car window and exchanging a few words gave teachers and students more of a sense of closure.

There’s a sense of finality to the last day of school that educators can rely on. Once everything from the year is completed, there is down time before teachers turn their focus on the new crop of students that will walk through their door come fall.

This time, it isn’t as cut-and-dry. Robinson said it has been, and will continue to be, a learning process for everyone.

“I feel like we can take a little bit of a breather, but the fall is still such an unknown, so at some point we’re going to have to face that,” said Robinson. “No matter what, it’s going to have to look different

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