Our little family has been wrapped up in our school/school community for 3 years now. Our daughter is in 3rd grade and our son is in 1st grade. I set a goal to return to the workforce when my son started kindergarten. Little did I know that I would end up working at our kids’ school. I am an instructional assistant in the Life Skills/Special Education classroom. I am wrapping up my second week of work. It is incredibly interesting to see my kiddos’ school as an insider now, not just as a parent. It is also helpful to see it from this view because I am a parent who is concerned about the COVID-19 virus. It seems our school has formed more ideas on social distancing than they had last year. Here are some of the items our school has added to enhance social distancing and covid prevention.
- The only time during the 6-hour school day that kids are without masks is lunchtime. There are currently 6 different lunch times (divided by grade level) so that the cafeteria is less crowded at this busy part of the day. It is mind-blowing to see how small the groups of kids are in the cafeteria at any given time.
- 3 feet between all seats/desks/lunch tables in the school
- Water fountains are taped off. Kids are encouraged to bring water from home in their own bottle every day.
- This is sad, very sad, but there is no singing in music class right now. The teacher has relayed that singing is one of the actions that can spread saliva droplets and so they are doing other musical activities like instruments (sanitized after each use) and watching videos about music.
- The school has separate entrances and exits according to grade level. There is also a separate waiting area for students who take the bus to and from school. Further, there are separate waiting areas for separate bus routes.
- Parents/caregivers and volunteers are not allowed in the school at this time.
- Instead of the traditional “back to school night”, our school is hosting a virtual “back to school night” where the teachers will give virtual tours around the classroom to parents/caregivers. The school took special consideration to ensure this special night will not be held until the majority of families received their Chromebooks from the district.
- Clear markers like arrows/dots on the hallway floors to show which direction to walk.
- The first two days of school contained no academic instruction- only safety instructions from varied staff on hallway/bathroom/classroom/cafeteria/recess guidelines.
- Individual materials for each student in a bucket/basket that are sanitized daily. No sharing of materials.
- Paper hallway/bathroom passes that are disposed of after each use.
- Masks at recess, even though we’re outside.
- The school is currently “trying out” having a few of the classes eat lunch outside. Although weather will affect this idea, the school is thinking about utilizing covered outside areas if possible and trying it on a larger scale with more classes.
As a parent, I was thrilled to read about all these precautions and practices before the year started. As a parent who works at the school, I am now aware that even tons of these precautions can’t stop kids from being kids. Recess is the most concerning. Kids are just waaaaaaay too close to each other. There are a few staff members out on the playground trying to regulate things, but kids are still pulling their masks below their noses, or temporarily pulling their masks off (although the staff usually catches a mask-less child right away, not so much with below the nose though…), pushing each other on the tire-swing or swings, playing tag and touching, shoving each other, hugging, whispering to each other, etc. There are only a few staff members on recess compared to a large group of kiddos, so it’s not easy to ensure every child is perfectly masked.
Another big concern of mine has been about my specific classroom: Life Skills. Some of my students have Down syndrome, Autism, and other developmental delays. A few of them have been great with mask-wearing while others get absolutely frustrated and continually rip them off, even breaking the straps. This is a hard thing because us teachers want to feel protected, but we care very much about our students and what feels okay/safe to them. Some of our families will likely seek out medical exemptions to excuse their kiddos from having to wear a mask at school. An article I read on an ADA (American Disabilities Act) website claims that some people with autism, including kids, are sensitive to face coverings and can encounter sensory overload, feelings of panic, and extreme anxiety and this may qualify them for an exemption (https://www.adasoutheast.org/ada/publications/legal/ada-and-face-mask-policies.php#t3a). This is a hard thing because even if our homeroom group of teachers are understanding of this: our other “special class” teachers like PE, Music, Computer Lab, and Library will likely have to deal with mask-less students if they are excused by medical exemption. Going out onto the playground has been hard with the students continually taking their masks off. The other teachers are concerned. We are still trying to figure out what to do, when families will pursue and provide medical exemptions, and how that will affect our daily schedule and visits to other places within the school.
So, that is the good and the bad through my eyes. If someone asked me what more the school could be doing, I wouldn’t have any suggestions. Unless we could have a billion adults monitoring recess and constantly pulling kids off each other, kids will likely get too close to each other and touch on occasion. Everyone is doing their absolute best and there are great guidelines and directions in place. The staff is working hard, the kids are working hard, and the families are just crossing their fingers every day not to get that dreaded letter that someone has been “exposed” or that someone has the virus within the school. I am so sad that this virus is still the daily topic 18 months after it hit, but here we are. I would encourage you all to research your school’s prevention practices, email your kiddos’ teacher/district with any questions/concerns/ideas about their prevention strategies, relay the importance of safety to your kiddos, and stay current on school communication and state guidelines about the ever-changing virus and its effects. Best of luck to you all in your quest for school safety and teaching your kiddos to keep up those good social distancing habits!
Stephanie McCoy was born and raised in Portland, Oregon-where she still lives. She recently graduated with a Master’s in Education degree from Concordia University. In her free time: she likes to read and write, get outdoors, embrace her kiddos and husband, and watch travel documentaries.