Keeping everyone safe and healthy is the tag for the school year of 2020-2021. With COVID-19 cases continuing to rise in the U.S., how can you, as educators, provide a healthy environment to welcome students back to school?
Consider that many of the recommendations made here have been made before for other reasons. Maybe now is a good time to implement some educational best practices while keeping students and teachers well.
What do we strive to teach small children? How to wash their hands properly. The impact of hygiene cannot be stressed enough now that a virus keeps us from doing the things you love to do.
Emphasize enhanced hygiene at all grade levels.
When washing hands:
- Wash frequently, including before and after eating and after using the bathroom.
- Use plenty of soap and water.
- Lather up and wash hands for at least 20 seconds (to the song of your choice).
- Get between your fingers, under your nails, and in your knuckles.
- Rinse thoroughly and dry.
- If you must, use hand sanitizer when washing is not possible or practical.
The rest of the time:
- Don’t touch your face - keep your hands away from your nose, mouth, and eyes.
- Wear a mask (it can keep you from touching your face.
- Make sure the mask goes below the chin and over the nose.
- Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces often, between each class if possible.
- Don’t share stuff.
Reduce Class Sizes
Remember when smaller class size was linked with better learning? COVID-19 is giving us another chance to prove the adage.Smaller class sizes reduce the number of people that come into contact with each other in an enclosed space. It also allows you to social distance. The CDC prefers six feet between people, but wearing masks can will enable you to shrink that to three feet if needed.
Now is the time to retire the perfect attendance award. While it was nice to incentivize going to school, it also encouraged some kids to attend while sick. Your teachers may have the same problem if there have been harsh consequences for missing a day of work.
Encourage staying at home while sick. Recovering from COVID-19 can take weeks for some individuals. Just think how many would be gone if that person exposed a whole class
Extended School Day or Year
An extended school day or "year-round school" is another concept that hasn't caught on but may be necessary now. Kids need the extra time to catch up from last Spring’s disruption and continue learning with any new breaks.
Garland, TX schools have inaugurated school for the entire year. It builds in additional, shorter breaks instead of an extended summer vacation. It may prove to add the flexibility the district needs in case of future shutdowns and quarantines.
Acknowledge that times are stressful. Include training on caring for children under stress and in need of emotional support. Let teachers know you expect them to take care of themselves, too.
Whatever you and your administration have decided for the upcoming year, communicate, over-communicate, and communicate again how things are different, and what is expected moving forward.
Keeping the same people together all day every day can reduce the chances a single individual will expose large numbers of students and teachers. You can schedule small groups of students to have the same class schedule, stagger class times to reduce the number of students in the hall, and serve lunch in the classroom.
Another idea is to have the teachers change classrooms instead of the students. The halls might be quieter.
Expand (or Don’t Cut) Health Staff
Now is not the time to cut staffing for school counselors, psychologists, and nurses. Everyone is stressed out from the ongoing epidemic, plus all the other issues of the day.
Kids need mental health and social coping skills that their parents may not know how to teach them. The nurse may see more students per day out of an abundance of caution. Don’t cut this needed resource.
Creating a healthy environment, body, and mind, is an essential foundation for learning. Schools can provide a welcome place to learn while keeping everyone from spreading a virus.