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Before class begins for the day, Penelope Quesada, an elementary music teacher, gathers her most commonly used cleaning supplies and places them in the classroom in convenient locations.

Natosha Via for NPR


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Back to School: Live Updates: NPR

Before class begins for the day, Penelope Quesada, an elementary music teacher, gathers her most commonly used cleaning supplies and places them in the classroom in convenient locations.

Natosha Via for NPR

Students in Louisville, Ky. Have been back in classrooms for a month this school year, and parents are already pressuring the governor to tackle the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the district. Jefferson County Public Schools reported 379 positive cases among staff and 2,866 positive cases among students on Tuesday, with 13,346 students being quarantined in a district of about 96,000 students.

After a special session last week, the Kentucky legislature passed a bill reversing the state’s mandate on the school mask, giving decision-making power to school districts instead. JCPS Superintendent Martin Pollio said the district-wide mask mandate will remain in place.

JCPS teacher Penelope Quesada sees over 100 students a day between her six classes at Semple Primary School. The majority of students in Semple are entitled to free or discounted school meals, which is a commonly used measure of poverty. Quesada said she spent nearly $ 600 of her own money on cleaning supplies and other precautionary measures.

She has been teaching for 18 years and says this year has been more stressful and emotional than any other year.

“Even with all precautions, having the risk of students contracting or transmitting COVID is almost like a life and death situation that I did not have before. We care a lot about these children and about them. these families. “I worry about the children and their caregivers. We have a lot of grandparents looking after the children,” she explained.

In addition to its current mandate on masks, JCPS offers voluntary weekly testing for students and staff, and on Tuesday the school board approved the requirement that employees be vaccinated or undergo regular testing. The school board’s decision comes after President Biden announced new measures to encourage K-12 schools to impose masks for all, require vaccines for employees and step up testing for COVID-19.

Quesada said he felt it was 100 days in the year, instead of just a few weeks.

Earlier this month, photojournalist Natosha Via spent a day with Quesada to see what it is like to be in school right now:

Back to School: Live Updates: NPR

Quesada and student teacher Christopher Wolfzorn place fans in open windows to circulate air. After doing his own research, Quesada decided to deal with an outward fan and an inward fan for better circulation.

Natosha Via for NPR


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Natosha Via for NPR

Back to School: Live Updates: NPR

Quesada and student teacher Christopher Wolfzorn place fans in open windows to circulate air. After doing his own research, Quesada decided to deal with an outward fan and an inward fan for better circulation.

Natosha Via for NPR

Back to School: Live Updates: NPR

Quesada turns on a fan in front of his classroom door. She spends most of her time before classes on COVID-19 precautions. She spent nearly $ 600 of her own money on air purifiers and fans to improve ventilation in her classroom.

Natosha Via for NPR


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Natosha Via for NPR

Back to School: Live Updates: NPR

Quesada turns on a fan in front of his classroom door. She spends most of her time before classes on COVID-19 precautions. She spent nearly $ 600 of her own money on air purifiers and fans to improve ventilation in her classroom.

Natosha Via for NPR

Back to School: Live Updates: NPR

Quesada poses for a portrait in her music class at Semple Elementary School in Louisville, Kentucky. She says she wants to continue teaching, but learning safely in person involves a lot more planning now than before.

Natosha Via for NPR


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Natosha Via for NPR

Back to School: Live Updates: NPR

Quesada hosts her second-year music class and gives them each a squirt of hand sanitizer when they walk into her class.

Natosha Via for NPR


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Natosha Via for NPR

Back to School: Live Updates: NPR

Quesada hosts her second-year music class and gives them each a squirt of hand sanitizer when they walk into her class.

Natosha Via for NPR

Back to School: Live Updates: NPR

In order to keep them as separate as possible, students in Quesada’s third grade class stand on stickers carefully placed on the floor. Due to the clutter of instruments and the need for students to be able to see their teacher, there is often only room for children to stand 3 feet apart, instead of 6.

Natosha Via for NPR


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Natosha Via for NPR

Back to School: Live Updates: NPR

In order to keep them as separate as possible, students in Quesada’s third grade class stand on stickers carefully placed on the floor. Due to the clutter of instruments and the need for students to be able to see their teacher, there is often only room for children to stand 3 feet apart, instead of 6.

Natosha Via for NPR

Back to School: Live Updates: NPR

“I wish schools serving low-income families were the priority. If those families get sick, it’s really traumatic. Who’s going to stand up for these kids? That’s what’s stressful for us teachers because we care. a lot of these kids and families. I’m worried about the kids and their caretakers, we have a lot of grandparents looking after the kids, “Quesada said.

Natosha Via for NPR


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Natosha Via for NPR

Back to School: Live Updates: NPR

“I wish schools serving low-income families were the priority. If those families get sick, it’s really traumatic. Who’s going to stand up for these kids? That’s what’s stressful for us teachers because we care. a lot of these kids and families. I’m worried about the kids and their caretakers, we have a lot of grandparents looking after the kids, “Quesada said.

Natosha Via for NPR

Back to School: Live Updates: NPR

When a student struggles with their mask, Quesada gives them a new one and helps them put it on correctly. She also uses headphones and a loudspeaker so that students can hear her better through her mask.

Natosha Via for NPR


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Natosha Via for NPR

Back to School: Live Updates: NPR

When a student struggles with their mask, Quesada gives them a new one and helps them put it on correctly. She also uses headphones and a loudspeaker so that students can hear her better through her mask.

Natosha Via for NPR

Back to School: Live Updates: NPR

Students in Quesada’s third grade music class all have the opportunity to play the xylophone. Quesada does what she can to keep the instruments clean. Her xylophones are expensive and wiping them down regularly could ruin them, so instead she spends her morning wrapping them in plastic wrap.

Natosha Via for NPR


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Natosha Via for NPR

Back to School: Live Updates: NPR

Students in Quesada’s third grade music class all have the opportunity to play the xylophone. Quesada does what she can to keep the instruments clean. Her xylophones are expensive and wiping them down regularly could ruin them, so instead she spends her morning wrapping them in plastic wrap.

Natosha Via for NPR

Back to School: Live Updates: NPR

Quesada spends time in class helping students adjust their masks or replace them if they need new ones.

Natosha Via for NPR


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Natosha Via for NPR

Back to School: Live Updates: NPR

Quesada spends time in class helping students adjust their masks or replace them if they need new ones.

Natosha Via for NPR

Back to School: Live Updates: NPR

The sign outside Semple Elementary reminds students that they are wanted at school every day.

Natosha Via for NPR


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Natosha Via for NPR

Back to School: Live Updates: NPR

The sign outside Semple Elementary reminds students that they are wanted at school every day.

Natosha Via for NPR

Natosha Via is a freelance photojournalist in Louisville, Ky.