Students taking part in the newspaper’s annual “I am thankful” feature often express their appreciation for parents, playmates and pets.

Teachers tend to make the list as well. But the number of students giving thanks for school is — to use a word that has so often described the events of 2020 — unprecedented.

“I am very thankful that they have not shut down my schools!” wrote Stephanie Ingram, a fourth-grade student at Sam D. Bundy Elementary.

Stokes School second-grader Maddie Page shared a similar sentiment.

“I am also thankful for school because if I couldn’t go to school every day I wouldn’t be able to learn,” she wrote.

Stokes School teacher Heidi Dennison said students who were unable to attend for months last spring due to the coronavirus pandemic seemed especially grateful to be allowed to return to the classroom in August. With the end of the first semester just three weeks away, she doesn’t see that attitude changing.

“We have heard it a lot,” said Dennison, who has taught English-language arts for more than two decades. “(One said) ‘My mom said that she wasn’t sure we’d ever be back, so thank you for coming.’”

Dennison was in her first year at Stokes when her fifth-graders were sent home for the weekend on March 13. Neither students nor their teachers knew then that they would not be back in the classroom for the rest of the school year.

But over the summer, Dennison made the move to middle school, allowing her to pick up in sixth grade right where her elementary students left off.

“You don’t know what you have until you don’t have it anymore,” she said. “The kids really have enjoyed being able to interact with each other because for so long that social aspect was taken out of their lives.”

Stokes is one of the schools in Pitt County that has been able to accommodate all in-person learners each week. Due to state requirements for distancing in the classroom, students at most middle schools and high schools must alternate between weeks of attending school on campus and remote learning.

“I just think that they like the normalcy that school provides for them,” Dennison said. “As much as school can be daunting for all of us, it is normal and they’re happy to be back.”

Students are not the only ones who are finding reasons to be thankful this year.

Belvoir Elementary fourth-grade teacher Candace Hines said the pandemic has been a reminder for her to be more appreciative of both her colleagues and her students. It has brought to mind the blessing of small things that she previously took for granted.

“I am thankful that God allows me to wake each and every day with breath, activities of my limbs, and he gives me the strength and power to teach my students,” she wrote.

Hilary Patty, a fourth-grade teacher at Eastern Elementary, also is thankful to be back in her classroom every day.

“(Students) have not given up on having joy in school,” she wrote, “and are doing their best to learn even with all of the crazy things happening right now.”

Dennison said students have been accepting of new rules that have come as a result of COVID-19 and understanding when technology issues have occurred. Even though a shorter school day often leaves students with more work to complete at home, few voice any objections.

The only complaints Dennison has been hearing are from students concerned that they may have less time in the classroom if they are required to alternate weeks of attendance as more of their peers return to campus in the spring.

“The kids would prefer to be here every day,” Dennison said. “They prefer being here, which I guess I never thought a middle schooler would say.”

“I am thankful” entries from Pitt County Schools students appear in today’s Look section.

Contact Kim Grizzard at kgrizzard@reflector.com or call 329-9578.