Back to School During a Pandemic – 5 Things You Can Expect

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That was the longest Spring Break of my life! We walked out of our campus doors March 6, 2020 expecting to return after a much-needed weeklong spring vacation. To our surprise, that wasn’t the case. Instead, we were thrown into distance learning literally overnight and had to adjust quickly to the new way of school for the reminder of the year. All of the spring and end-of-year traditions known to us went by the wayside. All and all, looking back I feel our school and faculty handled our situation to the best of our abilities and I’m happy we were able to finish strong in spite of the pandemic. Although, we definitely made some notes of how to improve the overall learning experience if we are ever faced with that situation again. 

Now, it’s August and time to start the next school year. We’ve sat on pins and needles for the past 22 weeks wondering if and when we can return back to school and what that might look like. Every city, county, and/or state will have their own plan to reopen schools, but I would like to share my experience around going “back” to school. Although, it may differ slightly or even completely from what you may experience yourself. 

Here is a list of 5 things a faculty member can expect to experience returning back to your campus.

1. Covid-19 Response Team

This is a group of people that have been working collaboratively together at the campus level to ensure the execution of a safe reopening. I happen to be on our campus level COVID-19 response team. We have met multiple times in the summer and continue to meet to discuss and brainstorm how to implement safe practices and recommendations. 

We determined what works best for our campus and how to implement those procedures. Then, we communicate with our school families and staff to educate them of our plan. Our highest priority is the health and safety of our students and staff. If this is a role you would like to fulfill, reach out to your school administrator and see if you can serve in this capacity. 

2. PPE Requirements

Returning to campus means wearing the proper personal protective equipment or PPE. At our campus we are required to wear a face mask, and it is recommended to wear a face shield for added protection. A face shield alone is not allowed. I have found all masks are not created equal. In fact, what I originally loved about my mask at first are things I dislike now. Filter or no filter, thickness, and ear loops or ties are all things to consider.

I recommend finding a mask you like and making sure you’re comfortable wearing it for long periods of time. Prior to coming back to campus, the longest period of time I ever wore my mask was at the grocery store. I wasn’t prepared or trained to wear my mask for the length of a school day. It was a very long first day back wearing it for hours and hours at a time. 

3. A New Campus Environment

Be aware that some permanent and temporary changes may have happened on your campus to ensure a safe reopening. The first time I walked back onto our campus my heart sunk a bit. Rooms rearranged and furniture pieces missing to allow room for physical distancing. Plexiglass partitions between the student desks in some classrooms. No desks at all in others. All carpets and soft surfaces removed to make cleaning easier and more consistent. It just makes for a very sterile learning environment. Some changes I’m thrilled about however: new handwashing stations, every classroom now has hand sanitizer attached to the wall at the entry of their classroom, and automatic faucets and flushers to limit surface touches. 

4. Constant Changes to New Procedures

I laughed when I wrote that line because it’s comical the amount of changes we have had to do to adjust to new guidelines and daily recommendations. I literally had an impromptu meeting yesterday to rethink morning drop off because we are now required to take temperatures at the cars before families can unload and enter the school. We have gone back and forth on temperature checking. We jumped into action and quickly developed our game plan to take temperatures. Today, when we presented it to our staff, the plan was completely different again because now we are not taking temperatures. I whipped my head around and mouthed to my follow COVID-19 response team member, “What? When did that change?”. “5 minutes ago.” she responded back with a smile.

These are unprecedented times. Guidelines and recommendations are constantly changing from above. Local levels are doing their best to keep up with the changes. Please remember that when changes arise and do your best to be flexible with a smile on your face. Our administrators and staff members responsible for making these procedures are trying to do what’s best for the campus and our community. Let’s show them some grace and appreciation.

5. Emotional Response

Every person is different on how they are handling the pandemic and returning back to work. Bringing our staff back on campus made that very apparent. Some were fearful, some were joyous, others concerned, and others carefree. It was very interesting to see everyone’s different emotional reactions to being back. I try to remember this and be understanding of their feelings. 

It’s an interesting time going back to campus to start a new school year. There were no excited-to-see-you hugs, loud conversations about all the fun you had this summer, and you can’t even tell if someone is smiling at you or not. It was honestly, just weird. Not how I want it to be or expected it to be, but it is the situation we are in. I’d rather be face-to-face with my students hiding behind a mask and shield than talking to them on a computer screen. I’m thankful to be back in person on campus and choosing to see the good. May your start of the school year be a blessed one.

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