EL DORADO, Ark. (KTVE/KARD) — Students across the country are now dealing with the reality of the coronavirus pandemic in their schools and are having to make adjustments to the various safety measures that have been put in place.
This is how classrooms at Washington Middle School are set up.
Teachers were given three options as to how to set up their classrooms. Some created group partitions while others went for a more traditional set up.
To achieve this, chairs stayed in a row but some furniture was removed from the classroom to keep students six feet apart. The students wear their masks regardless of the classroom setup and take mask breaks throughout the day.
“I really was concerned that it would be bothersome,” WMS Principal, Bethanie Hale said. “The kids really seemed to do okay with it yesterday and I think they’re just really glad to be back at school.”
The teachers and staff worked all summer to prepare for the school’s reopening and to follow the district’s ready for learning plan.
“Our teachers were up here way before they were on contract,” Hale said. “They were here on days that we were off and spent extra time on the weekends building those partitions and things like that. Everybody just put in so many hours of extra work.”
There are purple dots on the gym seats for students to remain six feet apart and every other row is blocked off.
Staff also put signs on the doors and floors in the hallways to direct one-way only traffic.
“Kids still talk. Kids still visit and I think it has a lot to do with masks and so it muffles your sound a little bit,” Hale said. “The kids are walking in a line to class rather than being grouped together talking as they go to class in order to be socially distant.”
With the requirement of wearing masks and following other guidelines, the general atmosphere of kids conversing with their friends has completely shifted.
There are 650 students enrolled at Washington Middle School with about 170 of the students opting for virtual learning at home. That has reduced the class size in some classrooms to between 10 and 12 students though the most a class has is 24.
Teachers or students clean the desk and other materials frequently used throughout the class period.
“We were very strategic about those class sizes. We try to keep everyone under 24. We pretty made is that way. Even with the classes that have 24, some of those are online. So there are less than 24 bodies in the classroom,” she said.
It all limits the number of students in the cafeteria. Before, six kids were seated at a table. Now, they were able to work out their lunch shifts where there are three kids to a table.
Each table is spread out and includes partitions to keep the kids separated while they eat with their masks off.
“When they finish eating we ask them to put their masks back on,” Hale said. “That lets us know that they are ready and they can transition to recess or back to class.”
Students are also using technology more now than ever. Each student whether at home or in class have a google Chromebook which faculty believe will be beneficial in the future in the event cases across the state or the county increase.
“We are totally a blended-learning environment. We are trying to teach them the same way we are teaching online kids and we’re trying to utilize our technology so if we do ever have to pivot, our students will be comfortable with that,” Hale said. “Our teachers will be comfortable with that. It’ll go seamlessly.”
Hale hopes schools will remain open throughout the entire year. She knows her staff and the entire district are doing what they can to make that happen.
“We care about your students. We love your students. We want what’s best for them. We want to keep them safe.”