A teacher in Kansas who is using remote learning to teach her students this school year because of the COVID-19 Pandemic has found a way to have some fun with the process—by still filling the desks of her classroom with smiling faces.

According to local news station KSNW, the teacher, Chrissie Barker, who teaches at White Elementary School in Wichita, made the move to fill the empty desks in her classroom with stuffed animals after an initial plan to teach more than two dozen students in-person was changed to her teaching her first-graders in a virtual format instead because of the ongoing pandemic.

“it is a really hard time right now as far as not just being a teacher, but being a parent and being a student, she said.

Barker said she was also using the idea, which she got from a teacher in Florida, to make an attempt to form a connection with her students, because, for the first time, they are not meeting and working in the traditional way, which makes the job harder when it comes to building relationships and really honing in on what the kids may need from her.

“It’s going to be so much harder this year to make connections because we’re not face to face, so I was trying to find a way to build those relationships being remote,” she said.

However, the move, which sees her using mostly Minions from “Despicable Me” and stuffed pandas seated in the desks and also includes a name on each one, is also one that gives her a benefit of still trying to have some fun with the circumstances as well.

“I’ll look in, and it makes me laugh. Some of the animals are looking off different directions, some are facing down and it’s just exactly like having kids in the classroom.”

The creative move comes as students around the United States have been going back into schools or preparing to do so soon since the education system shutdown in-person learning at the start of the pandemic. The previous school year ground to a halt as classes went entirely online with little notice, and major school events came to an end.

However, the return to schools has also not gone as well as hoped in certain areas. On a secondary school level, schools in the Southern U.S. caught ire online as photos surfaced showing students in high school hallways failing to social distance from one another or wear masks.

Colleges have also not been exempted from issues since students returned to campuses. Notre Dame and UNC were forced to suspend classes following outbreaks of the virus on their campuses, with students suspended for violating safety protocols and outbreaks also occurring at schools in Kansas, Rhode Island, Ohio and Alabama as well.

In New York, a switch to virtual learning for two weeks at SUNY Oneonta also became the suspension of in-person learning for the semester and students were forced to move off-campus after only two weeks of school after an outbreak occurred due to parties thrown at the university.

school classroom Stock photo of an empty classroom. Photo: Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images