Spanish teacher Juliana Davila is going back to school on August 10.
That is not as simple as it may seem in 2020.
All summer, teachers like Davila have racked their brains trying to imagine what back to school would look like — or if it would even happen — as coronavirus cases continued to rise in the U.S. and showed no signs of slowing down.
In Texas, where Davila lives, the state response to the virus has been anything but reassuring. Hospitals have reached capacity, and some of her neighbors are refusing to wear face masks for political reasons. And trying to keep up with the daily news only made Davila more stressed out. Other teachers in her community have decided to retire instead of risking teaching in a pandemic. Another former colleague of hers, a football coach, died from COVID-19. She said she’s been taking her temperature every day, twice a day.
“I don’t feel sick, but I feel like I am losing my mind,” she laughed. “I would rather be overly cautious.”
Her school, St Anthony Cathedral Basilica, located in the southeastern town of Beaumont, just recently announced that it will give students the option to come to class every day or continue with distance learning. That means Davila will have double the work: Teaching her in-person students and tending to those via Zoom.
“I feel like it is kind of a mess and it’s not ideal, but we are going to have to do it.”
So far, Davila, said, most parents have indicated that their kids will be coming in person. Since Davila works at a private Catholic school, her class sizes have always been smaller than most public schools — last year her biggest class had fewer than 20 students, so she isn’t worried about classrooms being too crowded. She is just curious how the last three months of preparation and ever-changing plans will play out on, well, the playground.
“My attitude is that I am going to take it as it comes,” she said. “I used to get super worked up about it, but then everything changes week to week. I know they are doing the very best they can.”
Here’s what she knows so far: Teachers are expected to show up to school at 7 a.m. to prepare for the arrival of students. Before exiting their cars, teachers will use non-contact thermometers to scan the forehead of each student to check their temperatures. If a student has a temperature of below 100 degrees, they are allowed to leave their car, sanitize, and be escorted to their homeroom, where they will stay from 7:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.
While in class, students will be required to wear their own masks, and desks will be spaced six feet apart and face the same direction. Teachers will wear masks and shields — the school will provide the shields, but both students and teachers are required to provide their own masks. Instead of students cycling out of classrooms for their different classes, teachers will be required to rotate to ensure minimal exposure and cut out the risk of students crossing each other in the hallways. There will be no textbooks or shared papers. Davila plans to use a projector to show the textbook. Thanks to a grant the school received, elementary-aged students will all receive a tablet to do their work on.
Students will eat lunch in their classrooms, and during recess they will be given a “mask break” — just as long as they are playing six feet away from each other. Students will take bathroom breaks in small groups, that will be spaced out to allow the room to be sprayed down with a sanitizing gadget Davila described as being straight out of the movie Ghostbusters.
At dismissal, students will leave at staggering times so that they won’t come in contact with one another for too long. And there will no longer be after-school activities or extracurriculars.
“Everything I’ve read I felt like was a good idea,” said Davila. “I kind of worry about the kids, because I wouldn’t be able to sit at a desk all day long. I am interested to see how the kids will react to it.”
Of course, all of this preparation has yet to come into practice yet. Davila said that even though school starts on Monday, there is still so much unpredictability. Even the way she is organizing her lesson plans for this fall has been drastically altered. Instead of focusing strictly on vocabulary like she used to, Davila said she wants her Spanish class to act as a reprieve for the kids who will be stuck in one room for the majority of the day.
“I used to plan my whole entire years out,” she said. “I don’t even want to think about doing something fun for Christmas or holidays. Now I am just going to do one thing at a time and that’s it.”
Davila said she spent the summer anxious to get back to school, and she knows students and parents feel the same way. But she also thinks there are a lot of opinions circling about whether or not it is OK or selfish to send kids back to school in this climate.
“I feel like it is kind of a mess and it’s not ideal but we are going to have to do it,” she said. “And hoping that things will change in the future isn’t worth spending time on right now.”
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