Back to Schools Season, or NOT?

As back to school season nears, each of us must face a decision. Do we trust that the shutdown has done its job, that testing and tracing are adequate, and that returning to school will be safe for our children and staff; or not?

I’ve looked to the scientists, and I’ve learned a few things.

One, although we know more than we did, it’s still true that very little is certain about this virus.

Two, The virus is primarily transmitted through droplets that come from sneezing, coughing, speaking, and singing. As droplets get into the air, they find there way onto our skin and into out mouths, noses, and eyes.

Three, although masks do not protect us completely, research suggests that mask wearing may reduce transmission rates somewhere between fifty to ninety percent of the time. However, those percentages drop considerably when mask wearing is considered optional.

Four, goggles may also protect us from droplets getting into our eyes.

Five, washing our hands and not touching our faces is still the only definitive advice upon which all doctors agree.

Six, social distancing is still essential.

Seven, the virus tends to concentrate in places with bad air flow, making the outdoors one of the safest places to meet in groups, and small rooms with large groups one of the most dangerous. This danger increases as exposure increases. In other words, the longer people stay in these small rooms, the more concentrated the virus becomes in those rooms. Basically, (duration of exposure to the virus) x (concentration of the virus in enclosed places) = (the risk of contracting the virus.)

Eight, although the virus can be killed by intensive exposure to UV light, the intensity needed for killing the virus is also too dangerous for humans. In other words, sunlight does not kill the virus as some believe.

Nine, masks block droplets that might be left by asymptomatic people. In other words, they do not protect the wearer. They minimize the potential of an asymptomatic person spreading the virus.

Ten, the internet is full of misinformation regarding everything about the virus, and we need to educate our kids regarding the truth.

I’ll be honest, as a teacher I miss my kids. I miss the high fives, the hugs, the smiles, the laughs. Most of all, I miss the way kids challenge my mind. No matter how you spell it, school is about camaraderie as much as it is about education, and we are definitely missing that camaraderie.

Science tells me that we are opening too early. Science tells me that we are no where near having a safe and tested vaccine. Science tells me that normal is a long way away. My gut tells me that not much has changed since the emergency shutdown regarding this virus, and if we want to protect ourselves and our kids, a great deal has to change.

What would it take for me to return to the classroom?

A different type of classroom, and a different reason for gathering.

Gone would be the rooms and halls packed with noisy kids. It its place I would see long distance learning coupled with one-on-one, in person, and by appointment tutoring held in the school yard as much as possible. We have learned over the past few weeks that lessons can be taught over the internet, sometimes even better than in a noisy classroom. What is missing however is the one-on-one time with a trusted teacher, and the much need contact with a bevy of friends. In the classroom of the future, I see special events carefully coordinated wherein kids can participate in group activities and socialize with friends, but in a safer manner. My classroom of the future would look vastly different than what we have become accustomed to, and I believe vastly improved.

Let’s be honest, our school system has been outdated for a while, but we have accepted the status quo. This virus has made accepting the status quo dangerous to our health. If teachers are to be ordered back to class, they must be allowed a say in how those “classrooms” can be run.

Here is my vision. Kids arrive at staggered times throughout the day. The first thing that happens is a quick health check. After all, shouldn’t all kids get a quick health check each day? Next they get sent to recess, where they spend a great deal of the day. Individuals or small groups meet with teachers as needed. Classrooms as we have come to know them will disappear, and in there place would be a teacher/student mentoring system. One teacher tracking the progress of twenty kids, but instead of seeing them all at once in a busy classroom, he or she would see them individually for thirty minutes each day, during which time they could administer an individualized curriculum, tutor kids in difficult subjects, answer questions, and provide the help only a teacher can give. I have taught in classrooms, and I have tutored individuals. I know from experience that thirty minutes of one-on-one time can contain as much instruction as six hours of class time.

Recess would also look different. No more kids just wandering around until the bell rings. The recess would take on some of the aspects of a study hall, or an after school program. Areas designated for working on assignments. Ipads available for educational games. Math contests. Science challenges. Writing contests. Debate clubs. Music clubs. Small but manageable group activities held outside as much as possible, where good air flow makes gathering less dangerous and social distancing can be encouraged..

Would kids still get sick? Absolutely. Would staff still get sick? Definitely. Would we still be risking our heath and our lives in order to serve our kids and community? Positively. However, we would have least done our duty to keep everyone as safe as humanly possible as we work to provide kids with the camaraderie and education that they so desperately need.

I believe in my heart that just going back to the status quo would be foolish, and I am not a fool.

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