Erin Banks, Faribault Lutheran School kindergarten teacher, knows it’s hard for young learners to sit still.
But to avoid the risk of spreading germs during the coronavirus pandemic, her students need to stay in the same spot throughout the day. Like teachers throughout the school, she needed to get creative in preparation for the 2020-21 year, which begins Tuesday.
As a solution, Banks ordered Scoop chairs, lap desks and yoga mats for each of her 16 students. Spaced 6 feet apart, students can rock back and forth on their seats or lie on their yoga mats during the day while facing in the same direction to eliminate physical interactions.
“We still want kindergarten to be very joyful,” Banks said.
The seats and desks Banks ordered are made of plastic, which makes for easy sanitation at the end of the day. Each item has a number that corresponds with a student, so products will be placed in the same spots after each sanitation. Banks even put stickers on the floor so she knows where to place the yoga mats.
School wide, FLS teachers have made adjustments to their lessons and procedures to meet new health and safety guidelines. At a school where community building and inter-grade mingling are huge priorities, teachers and school leaders are faced with the challenge of keeping small groups of students in their pods and staying healthy.
“Everything is going to take just a little longer this year,” said FLS second-grade teacher Kellsey Meyer, who noted hand washing is a big lesson she’ll teach her students.
In their homerooms, Banks said students in the K-8 school are allowed to take off their masks because families have committed to limiting their outings to school. Each classroom allows for a capped number of students depending on the area of the room. Some allow up to 20 while others are limited to 14, and a couple teachers switched classrooms to accommodate class sizes.
At least two students will participate in the distance learning model FLS coordinated, and those students may watch livestreams of their classes or view the recordings later. Teachers will also arrange specific times when in-person students can video chat with students at home.
One of the biggest gatherings of the week for FLS students is chapel, but this year, only two grades will gather in the chapel per week while other classrooms livestream the service. Although parents and community members aren’t allowed to attend chapel with students this year, they can also livestream the services.
“We’re so grateful we had that livestream option already set up,” said FLS fourth-grade teacher Diana Kitzman.
Students will abide by staggered lunch times and space apart with four seats per table in the cafeteria, which custodians will clean between each lunch shift. Teachers will use gloves to serve condiments and salad bar options so multiple students won’t need to handle the same utensils.
Teachers will monitor the pick-up and drop-off routine before and after school this year to make sure students social distance as they enter and exit the school. Families are expected to screen their children for symptoms of COVID-19 before each school day with temperature checks, and students who come to school without a recorded temperature will need to go to the office for a screening.
If a student experiences symptoms of COVID-19, Meyer said staff will follow a flow chart from Minnesota Public Health, which was adjusted to meet the needs of FLS. Students are not required to test for COVID-19, she said, but they will be expected to quarantine before returning to school.
FLS Principal Becky Gerdes, who started her tenure in July, said she’s grateful for the partnerships that formed with area parochial schools during the pandemic as well as the school’s COVID-19 preparedness team. Parents employed at businesses, in the medical field and in the public school system shared their input during meetings to help FLS develop its approach to the pandemic.
FLS hired an additional cleaning crew to meet COVID-19 guidelines, and the school has also shared resources with Divine Mercy Catholic School, Bethlehem Academy and Shattuck-St.Mary’s. One major resource is Mary Herzog, registered nurse for Faribault parochial schools, who keeps FLS informed of sudden changes in COVID-19 research and health and safety procedures.
“We were able to do that forward thinking,” Gerdes said of the preparedness plan. “It’s been great to collaborate with the Catholic school system.”