Back to School Amidst COVID-19 :: Are Our Kids Really Safe?

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I saw a meme floating around the other day that said “Can you believe Spring Break is almost over?” and it gave me a good chuckle. Seriously though, trying to determine what it would look like to actually go back to school after a 6 month break nearly skyrocketed my anxiety.

Two weeks into school, however, I am witnessing first-hand the hard work and dedication of teachers, as well as the creative ways students are social distancing while choosing in-person learning amidst COVID-19 restrictions.

Boys in masks
My boys sporting their cool masks

For the most part, the anxiety I felt about sending my kids to school, wearing a mask all day, or taking proper hygienic precautions has been alleviated.

Some of my biggest concerns were:

  • Will my child be uncomfortable wearing a mask all day? Will they be able to breathe?
  • How will their social-emotional development be affected by the sterile conditions and the fact that you can’t see someone laugh or smile?
  • Will my child be able to follow the guidelines, or will they be constantly reprimanded all day?
  • Is it really worth it to send my child back to school in person?

I will speak to each of these, but I should start this by saying that last Spring, before the quarantine craziness, I decided to go back to work outside of the home for the first time in 9 years. It just so happens that I accepted a job at a school, not having any clue that my whole world was about to be rocked, and that this job would look very little like I had imagined. This job has given me an inside look at what teachers and administrators have done to not only prepare for school, but also what systems they have in place to keep health and safety as top priorities.

girl wearing mask
My youngest wears a mask when she goes to preschool and for her it’s just another accesory!

For those of you wondering what school looks like inside of a building, I will walk you through a typical day. Upon arrival, students are greeted outside by a teacher wearing a mask. Their temperature is taken and they are asked a series of health-related questions. Once they’ve gone through the initial check, they enter school through the door closest to their classroom (with a mask on) and use hand sanitizer before sitting down.

The desks are spaced at least 6 feet apart and an Owl 360 camera is in each classroom to livestream the lessons to the students that chose the virtual school option. Throughout the day the students have several opportunities to take a mask break while outdoors.

Owl Camera
The Owl 360 gives virtual students a panoramic view of the classroom.

At our school (which is a small, private school in Collierville), 3 outdoor learning spaces were built and specifically designed to be used for kids to have mask breaks. On nice days, the kids read, write, have lunch, recess, P.E. and even have their morning meeting outdoors.

back to school outdoors!
Students take their learning outdoors with portable wifi and camp chairs.

Even when outside, teachers encourage the students to socially distance and set timers to remind themselves and the kiddos to be at a safe distance.

While indoors, most of the students wear the mask without hesitancy. As a mom, I know this was a major concern for me prior to sending my kids back. I didn’t want them to feel restricted or short on air, but both of my boys consider their mask a cool accessory and wear it even when they don’t have to.

back to school reading
My first grader during reading workshop

Hand washing is encouraged and monitored. Upon re-entry into the building, or after eating, the students use hand sanitizer or wash their hands in the restroom.

Even with masks and precautions and rules and regulations, the building is filled with smiles and laughter. While everything is very clean, it is far from sterile. The pictures that line the walls are of people washing their hands and carrying masks.

back to school art is a little different this year
Kindergarten art looks a little different these days!

Is it wildly different? Yes. Is it concerning? Not in the least.

I can confidently say that wearing a mask bothered me much more than it bothered my kids. I can also say that I have seen teachers and administrators go far above and beyond their duties to engage with the children, make them feel comfortable and cared for, and give them every opportunity to see this not as disadvantage, but as a wonderful obstacle to overcome.

For my kids and our family, going back to school has brought about some much needed routine and consistency. Socially, the interaction with friends and a return to the rules and order of school has been a gift to us all. Virtual schooling with me as the teacher did not yield great results, and I am thrilled to see my kids ignite their love for reading and writing once again.

If you think your life was stressful in preparation for back-to-school, I can nearly guarantee that teachers and school staff were deeper in the trenches than you could have imagined. For weeks leading up to reopening, administrators were researching procedures, familiarizing themselves with ever-changing protocols, and relentlessly relaying information to their staff. Teachers were true heroes, using creative problem solving to rearrange classrooms to allow for more space, higher levels of hygiene, and creating more opportunities to learn outdoors. If anything, COVID has forced many educators to think outside the box, and out of necessity has come some truly innovative solutions.

excited to be heading back to school
Taking a mask break to eat lunch outside.

If you have yet to thank a teacher, or administrator, do it today. If you think that the teachers were “off” for 6 months – think again. This may very well have been their busiest and hardest season of work yet.

Whatever you chose for your child – homeschool, virtual school, or in-person school, the challenges will continue to come. There is no way for parents or educators to predict what will happen next, but we can do everything in our power to keep making informed decisions. When we look back at this season of life, I think we will be amazed at how wonderfully resilient our children truly are.

 

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Kristi Rice
Kristi was born and raised in Chicago but calls Memphis her home. She lives in Collierville with her husband, Jesse, and three kids – Levi (June 2012), Sam (May 2014), and Halle June (March 2016). Her husband lost his left eye in combat while in Iraq with the U.S. Army in 2007; because of that, she tries to treat every single day like a gift. She is a work-from-home mom, providing online nutrition and fitness coaching to hundreds of clients while juggling a threenager. She loves to talk all things enneagram (she’s a 4w3), faith, family, and fitness. On a good day you can find her on the tennis court or scouring the city for the best coffee shop. If she’s not there check the laundry room – she’s probably waist-deep inside the washing machine.

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