The spread of COVID-19 has forced difficult decisions to be made by school systems.
Over a span of almost a year, educators, administrators, officials, parents and students had to constantly adapt to the way education is presented to students.
There is no set way that schools have been operating. The increase or decrease in infection numbers by location usually determines that.
Here’s an example of what one local school has been doing to balance such difficult decisions, especially with numbers gradually increasing across the state.
Utica Academy of Science Charter School, specifically its elementary school, invited us late last year to document what changes were made to conduct the safest and most beneficial school year to their students. Those initiatives are still in place this year, they said.
Hybrid learning has become the new norm with online and in-person options, as well as some pre-recorded video, according to Genevieve Campanella, dean of UAS Elementary School.
“We’re responsible for educating students that are in the building as well as those who are at home,” said the dean, who is in her third year at the elementary school.
Classrooms and grades are now split up among weekdays. Kindergarten through third grade is divided into separate groups — one group being Monday and Tuesday, and the second being Thursday and Friday.
Each classroom has up to 12 students maximum, and the rest are full-time online. Parents also have the choice to be completely online as well if they desire.
Any weekday that a group is not in the school, they switch to online learning for the remainder of the week, including Wednesday.
Giving children “the best education while being safe” is the highest priority, according to Campanella.
Wednesday has become the new cleaning day. Custodians take shifts to deep clean the building by scrubbing desks, cubbies, electronic learning equipment, high-contact areas and even spray cleaning entire rooms with mist disinfectant.
“We’ve always had a structure to school environment, so it’s been a little easier for us to implement these policies and procedures,” said Campanella, adding they also had to rework all of them to follow along with the New York state guidelines.
Arrivals to the school also has changed. Every student, faculty member and visitor must undergo temperature screenings and use hand sanitizer. Buses are at half capacity with students and drivers wearing masks.
Hallway travel has been greatly reduced and coordinated by classroom with single-file lines while the kids are kept 6 feet apart. Teachers also encourage students to extend their arm out occasionally while walking so they are reminded to socially distance with the person in front of them.
Physical education teacher Tyler Merriam had his own hurdles to jump, particularly because gym class for children usually requires a lot of social interaction.
He developed a number and letter system that is displayed on the gymnasium walls that children are assigned to that encourages social distancing during activities.
When preparing for games, he narrowed down what ones already were spaced out and the ones that weren’t. He then modified the nonsocial distanced games into ones that were. Freeze tag for example no longer requires an actual “tag,” and kids hold out a paddle to freeze others in place.
“You would think that going into the class the kids would almost be a little sad because they can’t have normal P.E. class, but by the time you get everything rolling and get into activities, they don’t even care and they just go out and have fun,” he said.
Any items used also are sanitized.
The school plans to continue following protocols given by the state and health professionals as the school year continues.
The school dean Genevieve Campanella and other faculty members have hope for a return to normalcy in the future, not just for themselves but other schools as well.
“I’m just so proud of our staff here and our families,” Campanella said. “It’s definitely not easy, and it requires a lot of work. Everyone has been flexible, hopeful all while still wanting to do what’s best for the kids.”
How COVID-19 has changed UAS Elementary
Genevieve Campanella talks about new changes implemented at Utica Academy of Science Elementary because of COVID-19.