Changing the Way That We Learn: Going Back to School
April 30, 2021
As public and private school students head back to their physical classrooms, they’ll most likely encounter a different place than when they left in early 2020. New safety and health standards have changed how schools operate. Social distancing, handwashing, improved cleanliness practices, and new disinfecting routines will likely become the norm for students across the United States and worldwide.
Social Distancing at School
In developing safety guidelines, schools from preschool to high school can face challenges with so many children and teens in one building. This school year, social distancing measures may include:
Spaced desks in classrooms
Markers to keep students apart in public areas, like the cafeteria or auditorium
Some schools are contemplating innovative solutions, such as:
Staggered school day starts — Different parts of the school population come at different times.
Rotating schedules — Students come to school some days and learn remotely on others.
Staying in place — Rather than moving from classroom to classroom (increasing exposure), classes stay in place with only the teachers rotating. In some cases, this could mean all students eat lunches at their desks rather than in the cafeteria.
Ramping up the use of virtual technology — The e-learning that many schools turned to during the pandemic may become a more permanent and prominent part of their offerings.
However, the approach could vary from state to state, district to district, and even school to school, so every family should try to be aware of the policies that apply to them.
In 2020, Avondale Academy, a 117-student alternative school in the Detroit suburbs, decided to replace its teachers with an educational software program after the local Board of Education voted to restructure the school. While officials claimed that the drastic move would save money as the district braced for deep budget cuts caused by COVID-19, critics felt something important was lost by cutting real teachers out of the equation.
The results of measures like this could mean that school days and the school year lengthen and online learning could become a larger part of the education mix.
School Supply and Health Demand
Parents are faced with the dual challenge of supplying their kids with safety information and personal protective equipment (PPE) in uncertain times while they do their back-to-school shopping for everything from new lunchboxes to backpacks. And they might contemplate new school supplies to supplement safety measures implemented by schools, including face masks, extra facial tissues, and sanitizer or sanitizing wipes.
For its part, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends supporting behaviors that can help reduce the spread of germs. Schools may need to provide larger quantities of traditional supplies, like hand soap but may also need to consider providing non-traditional supplies as follows:
Besides having adequate PPE and cleaning supplies, schools may also consider having enough regular supplies and equipment (for example, art supplies), so students can have their own supplies and not be tempted to share. Children’s belongings might also be kept separate in individually labeled containers, cubbies, or areas.
Schools may consider discouraging the sharing of anything hard to clean or disinfect and frequently used items like:
One Hand Washes the Other
It’s good for students and teachers to learn proper handwashing and practice it thoroughly, especially if they have contact with a high-touch area or object, such as a door handle or someone else’s desk surface.
Wetting the hands by running water (warm or cold) over them
Lathering the back of the hands, between the fingers, and under the nails
Scrubbing for at least 20 seconds (sing “Happy Birthday” twice)
Rinsing the hands under clean water
Drying using a clean towel from a touchless dispenser
If soap and water aren’t available or need to be supplemented, the CDC recommends hand sanitizer (gel or wipes). The CDC also warns that while hand sanitizer can help get rid of many germs on the hand, it may not get rid of all of them or be as effective when the hands are visibly dirty or greasy. After the gel is applied, it should be rubbed over the surfaces of the hands and fingers until dried in about 20 seconds.
When students go back to school, the CDC also advises that proper respiratory etiquette should be taught. The CDC says such etiquette involves coughing or sneezing into a facial tissue (or an elbow if caught without one), followed by disposal of the tissue into a trash can and thorough handwashing.
Cover Your Bases With Face Coverings
The CDC recommends wearing face coverings in “public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain … especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.” In schools, especially ones where social distancing is hard to maintain, cloth face coverings and other masks are recommended by the CDC.
Wearing a face covering or face shield does not replace the need to continue frequent handwashing, avoiding touching the face, and practicing social distance.
Other Considerations for Going Back to School
Some of the other changes that might greet students back at school include:
More schools may encourage students to bring their lunches and eat them in their classrooms to maintain social distancing. Or they might provide plated meals in classrooms rather than permitting gatherings in dining halls or cafeterias.
If food is offered in the cafeteria, it might come in prepackaged meals rather than communal buffets or served meals from hot trays. Disposable utensils and plates might be used. Disposable lunch trays and contactless trash cans might also be deployed.
Physical Barriers and Guides
To enforce social distancing, schools might introduce sneeze guards, partitions, and other barriers in areas where it is hard to stay 6-feet apart. On floors and sidewalks, they could also provide physical guides to keep people apart, such as tape or markers. In bathrooms, schools might install flexible plastic barriers between sinks that force people to remain apart.
Communal spaces, such as playgrounds and auditoriums, might also stay closed or thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between uses.
More Virtual Events
Group events and activities, including field trips, can be more difficult to arrange because of distancing requirements. Group events and activities may be in smaller numbers, or there may be more virtual events.
Nonessential visitors may be discouraged or prohibited from coming to schools.
Signs and Messages
Schools may post signs in high-traffic areas, such as school entrances and restrooms, to enforce safety messages about handwashing, distancing, and face coverings.
Being prepared with the right resources and supplies, schools and parents can help prepare their children for the new normal.
About the Author
Peter Giffen is a writer and editor who specializes in business and technology.
All content provided herein is for educational purposes only. It is provided “as is” and neither the author nor Office Depot warrant the accuracy of the information provided, nor do they assume any responsibility for errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein.
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