The Quandry of Reopening Schools in a Pandemic

As school officials brainstorm ways to reconvene students and teachers in the school building, while living in the midst of a pandemic, educators add “montioring students’ health” to their primary mission of helping students learn.

As such, students will also add “decontamination ritual” with “do your homework” as their “get ready for school” checklist. In pre-pandemic days, the morning parent-student ritual went something like this:

Do you have your backpack?

Do you have your homework?

Do you have your lunch?

Dad’s going to pick you up afterschool.

Remember you have piano lessons today.

Did you practice last night? Mrs. So-and-So said that you didn’t practice last week….

But now, living in the midst of a pandemic, parents will also need to take a kid’s temperature, make sure the kid has their mask on, remind the kid to keep their mask on, don’t touch anything since they just sanitized their hands, collect their clean shoes in the garage, then remind their kid to step on a bleach soaked towel, so they don’t track germs into the car…You get the drift.

Then, when they get to school, imagine the principal, who can sometimes already be intimidating, greeting you in full PPE, like this:

Educators in protective gear while teaching

If students need to be disinfected just to enter the school building, will they feel welcomed? Will students want to endure such a daily ritual just to learn or will parents have one more battle to fight to get their kids to go to school?

If students get through the front doors of the school, then, in the classroom, teachers could potentially experience the following management situation:

And imagine how much time per day will be spent reminding kids to wash their hands, timing them for 20 seconds and then trying to refocus their attentions on the lesson, before having to repeat the whole ritual again in the next hour. Even if every kid only needed one minute each to complete the entire ritual, with just 20 students, that’s 20 minutes of hand washing to every 40 minutes of instruction. In such conditions, does reopening schools actually increase the likelihood of students learning more than continuing distance learning?

Kids are kids, enthusiastic and seemingly propelled by forces other than metabolism, the process of their cells breaking down food molecules into energy. Thus, in social distancing conditions, how much time of a teachers day will be spent simply maintaining a six feet distance between each kid which will detract from teaching and learning?

Then, there’s the issue of classroom space. When I taught with 35 students in one room, there was barely a foot of walking space between rows of desks, and inches between desks in the row.

Between social distancing to potentially disinfecting every kid before they enter the school builidng, we may create conditions where students and teachers worry they’ll get sick or they’ll make someone else sick. In such a heightened anxiety, how can kids relax to build trust with their peers and teachers, so they can actually learn and how can teachers relax so they can focus on teaching?

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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