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The New Normal: What it’s like inside a school during the pandemic reopen

Published: Aug. 24, 2020 at 7:09 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) -Monday, August 24 marked the first day of school for most Ozarks students and the first time they’ve been back in the classroom after six months due to the coronavirus outbreak in March.

On opening day the Nixa School District allowed us to visit the Century Elementary School with its nearly 500 students to see what the “new normal” looks like.

“It’s much, much different,” said third grader Owen Sidwell.

Starting with masks.

In Nixa everyone from kindergarten through high school is required to wear them except during times they can social distance or while eating, taking P.E. classes or during recess.

It certainly takes some getting used to for everyone but parents had been told to prepare their children for the mask requirements and even first graders like Paisley Lantz had a very astute response when asked if she understood why she had to put up with the inconvenience of wearing a face covering.

“It makes me hot but it saves our friends and us from getting the virus,” she replied.

Besides the masks you’ll also notice as you walk around a lot hand washing, no water fountains being used, everyone using their own supplies and water bottles, plastic partitions on the tops of the desks in the classrooms, every other seat empty in the lunchroom for social distancing reasons and the constant cleaning of surfaces.

And in the middle of all that, the teachers are trying to keep it fun.

First grade teacher Katie Hoesch was giving her class bonus “cubes” or stickers for adapting.

“Going into this we knew it would be extra hard so we planned some extra positive incentives to keep them going,” Hoesch said. “As soon as I explained to them they could earn some different stickers for just making sure they were being safe, they were up for it.”

“I may see a kindergartner walking around like this (with the mask not covering their nose), but this is their first day of school,” added Nixa Superintendent Dr. Gearl Loden. “Some of our kindergartners we’re teaching how to open a carton of milk for the first time because we didn’t have summer school. So it may take a while but it’s been great. The kids have been very compliant. They’ve got some really cool masks.”

The teachers not only have cloth masks, but also have clear face shields for teaching purposes.

“They can see my face when I’m reading a book or talking to them,” explained kindergarten teacher Amanda Walker about the importance of the clear masks. “They can still see expression.”

“It’s very important for our speech teachers and our reading teachers to sometimes see how they’re forming a sound,” added Century Elementary Principal Cara Blevins.

It’s obvious there’s been a lot of painstaking planning to establish this “new normal” right down to keeping groups of students together to prevent cross-contamination. Hoesch had even created a color-coded seating chart for contact tracing purposes in case the illness hits her class.

“I’m able to answer if I need to who they’ve been in close-contact with,” she said. “It’s being proactive so that if we get into a situation where we need to know that information, we’re not fumbling around trying to get it.”

Loden explained that the attempt at keeping groups together even extends to the higher grades.

“The first thing you need to have is a cohort where it’s the same kids in the room every day,” Loden explained. “Even at the secondary level where you have seven-or-eight periods you still have the same kids so you’re limiting your contact tracing. You have seating charts in your lunchrooms and classrooms so you don’t have a lunch out at the high school taking out 150 others but it’s a lunch that may have 20-30 that will be quarantined instead.”

There’s also a concern about the emotional toll the pandemic is taking and Loden pointed out that the district has partnered with Burrell Behavioral Health to provide counseling for both students and teachers. Century Elementary School also has a service dog, Orbit, who’s there to provide emotional support.

And according to Blevins, perhaps the group most in need of emotional help are those outside the school walls.

“Kids seem to be a little more resilient than adults,” the school principal pointed out. “I think probably one of the most difficult things this morning was that parents weren’t able to come into the building. And for those kindergarten parents that’s a really big deal. It’s harder for the adult than it is for the child sometimes. We know those parents are giving us their most-valuable possessions so that’s why we’ve taken so much time to think through every part of the day to make sure we’re not missing something to keep these kids safe. They’re our babies too!”

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