BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — Hugs, high fives and handshakes are being replaced with the air hug, chicken dance, air five and foot bump.
“Little ones are used to hugging, but we have other ways to show love and support,” explained Monclova Primary School principal Betsey Murry, pointing to stickers demonstrating positive feedback alternatives that don’t involve touching.
For Murry and the other Anthony Wayne Local Schools principals, preparing for a school year that involves social distancing and masks has been an opportunity to demonstrate ingenuity and perseverance.
By the time the doors open on August 27, the physical spaces will be marked off for 6-foot separations, temperature-checking monitors will be installed at entrances and hand-sanitizing stations will be posted throughout the building. More importantly, the teachers are trained and ready to get students back to learning in a safe environment, said Fallen Timbers Middle School Principal Brian Bocian.
“The first few days, the teachers will devote a lot of time to procedural items, like masks and social distancing,” Bocian said. “We’re going to operate as normally as we would on a regular school day.”
Earlier this month, the Anthony Wayne Board of Education agreed to adhere to a plan that ties in the level of student in-school attendance with the Ohio COVID-19 Risk Level Guidelines for the Public. At Level 1, yellow, all students attend in person. At Levels 2 and 3, orange and red, the hybrid schedules will be used. If the risk assessment would reach Level 4 or purple, school would be held remotely.
While many other Lucas County schools decided to start the year remotely until October 1 – as recommended by the Lucas County Health Department – the board viewed the lower numbers in the AWLS district and agreed to move forward with the hybrid schedule, in which students grouped by last names A-L and M-Z attend in-person classes two days a week.
“When the district came out with their plan last month, it answered a lot of questions,” Bocian said, so instead of getting questions about COVID-19 and safety protocols, he’s hearing more typical back-to-school questions, such as “Where is my homeroom?” or “What’s on my supply list?”
Safety is the top priority, principals agree. Earlier this week, Superintendent Dr. Jim Fritz shared with the board and the principals some background about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which shows physiological needs such as food, water, warmth and rest as the primary need, followed by security and safety.
“We’re meeting student safety and staff safety first. Our next priority is social and emotional support,” Murry said. “Some students will be scared. Some may have had family members with COVID. We want them to know they can feel safe here.”
The district is also following Bloom’s Taxonomy, a classification of the different objectives and skills that educators set for student learning objectives. The first step is Understand, followed by Apply, Analyze, Evaluate and Create, Bocian said, referring to a chart about Bloom’s.
“In order for students to learn and reach a higher level, they need a safe foundation,” Bocian said.
In each of the buildings, the first few days and weeks will be used to model and explain safety measures – especially as what returning students knew as normal is now much different.
At FTMS, about 60 of the 700 students have chosen to stick to online-only school, so fewer than 350 students will be inside the building on any given day, Bocian said. At Monclova Primary, an additional 60 students are studying remotely, so approximately 250 of the 550 students will be in attendance each day.
Upon entering the building, students and staff must be wearing masks and stop at a temperature check station – which looks like an iPad on a stand. Walking in the halls, students will follow directions to stay separated before arriving in classrooms.
Standing inside his corner room at FTMS, Jon Ernst-hausen referred to the bulletin board, adorned with 18 mini basketball hoops signed by each one of his classes in previous years.
“I’m starting my 19th year,” the sixth-grade teacher said, pointing out other artwork from students hanging on one wall.
Like other classrooms throughout the district, the desks are grouped in units of two, separated by 6 feet. When Group A comes in on Tuesday and Wednesday, students will sit in one desk and leave their bookbags, coats and belongings on the other desk. Both desks will be sanitized before Group B arrives for Thursday and Friday instruction.
No more sounds of clanging lockers this year, Murry said, as students throughout the district will use bookbags to transport their own items, including electronic devices – of their own or loaned from the district – to avoid sharing screens with others.
Avoiding the sharing of items is a common theme. At FTMS, physical education teacher Bridget Fullerton purchased enough jump ropes so each student could have one of their own, and she’s designed a curriculum around their use. In the art room, students will carry their own markers, crayons and supplies instead of digging into a bin. In the media centers, students can preorder books, which upon return will be set aside for several days before being recirculated.
The lunchrooms have assigned tables, with seats 6 feet apart. Cafeteria aides will deliver meals to students at the tables, to prevent waiting in lines. The restrooms have signs limiting the number of students and caution tape over urinals, toilets and sinks to keep a 6-foot barrier between children. Even the outdoor area is divided into five zones, and each class will stick to a zone per week, rotating between the blacktop, grass, mulch and playground equipment, Murry said.
The outdoors will be used as much as possible, weather permitting, at all levels.
“We’re fortunate to have green space at FT – so we can go outside. Teachers are no strangers to taking the classroom outdoors,” Bocian said.
That outdoor setting, whether for recess or learning, will allow students to unmask at a safe distance for a while. The cafeteria and gym also provide ample space for students to take mask breaks, Murry said. Each of the Monclova students is getting a lanyard to hold onto their masks during those breaks.
As teachers prepare for the first days of school, many are using the Ohio Department of Education videos urging kids to “Mask Up. Back Up. Wash Up,” but are also creating many of their own videos to introduce themselves to students and provide some answers to parents.
That’s a first step in cementing relationships with students. In March, when schools closed, teachers already had time to know each student in order to better help them learn. Getting to know those students early is even more important this school year – especially if learning has to go virtual later, Bocian said.
Over the summer, Ernst-hausen took time to stop and chat outdoors with each of his incoming students, get a photo and find out about their hobbies and favorite candy.
“Despite the challenges to starting up the new school year, all of the teachers are excited to see the kids. When the kids come in, it will all seem worth the extra work,” Ernsthausen said.