The first assignment for staff at St. James Episcopal School was how to make sure students return to the classroom and stay safe from COVID-19.
While many local schools recently kicked off the school year with remote learning because of the novel coronavirus, nearly 200 students will be returning for in-classroom learning Wednesday morning.
St. James is one of the first local schools to return to in-classroom learning. Headmaster Galen Hoffstadt said that means changes inside and outside the classroom.
“We’re really excited about returning, but we have to know we’ll be safe,” she said.
Before the school day starts, staff and students will get their temperature checked. They’ll also be screened, and must have their masks on before entering buildings. Parents will not be allowed inside the school unless their child is a toddler.
The school also reduced class sizes in select grades, desks have been placed 6 feet apart, students will only be able to travel in one direction on the campus' stairwells, and they will eat lunch three to a table instead of eight.
Kindergarten teacher Sanya Hall said it’s been nearly six months since she’s taught students in the classroom.
“Most teachers, we have those mixed feelings, but I think our hearts are here," she said. "Our hearts want to be at school, and I’m so excited to be back with my students.”
Hall also has a medical cart in her classroom that has extra face masks, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and a face shield.
“So when I’m teaching language, students can see my mouth as I stand safely at a distance, because that’s also so important -- is seeing for young children in kindergarten,” said Hall.
The school is also encouraging students to bring their own water bottles. Water fountains have been removed and replaced with hands-free washing stations. Classrooms will be disinfected every evening, and the lunch room will be disinfected after every lunch period.
Students will only socialize with other similar-aged students. For example, first graders will stay in the classroom with other first graders. If they go to recess, they will all go together.
“We are really taking every precaution and we’ve asked our families to take those same precautions,” Hoffstadt said. “So our hope and prayer is that everybody is staying safe at home, and so we’ll be safe at school.”