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First Week of School
Erik Sietsema
Wednesday, August 26, 2020

First week of school in Big Sandy is in the books

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The first week of school is in the books, and Principal Heather Wolery is pleased with how smoothly things have gone so far. Though many things are different about the school day due to the new regulations and guidelines, students and teachers have adapted well. This was not an inevitable outcome, but came as a result of hard work on the part of the school administration and the cooperation of the staff, students, and their families.

Returning to school with worries about the Covid 19 pandemic ever present in media and our collective thoughts prompted many parents to express concerns about how the school would ensure the safety of their children. Heather points out that such concerns were always prefaced with: "We just support the school. We are so thankful that you guys are trying to do your best, and we know you are. We just support the school." This vote of confidence is much appreciated.

According to Heather, the two biggest challenges with the return to school have been the temperature checks first thing in the morning and the meal service for the older students.

Chouteau County Heath Department requires every student to have their temperature checked every morning. In addition, each must answer 3 health questions before being allowed into the building. "It's been a process to figure out how we're going to get the kids into the school quicker," Heather explained regarding the challenge of moving so many kids into the building in such a tight window of time. However, the new process has gone smoothly.

Serving lunch to the students has also been a challenge. Historically, students from the high school have been transported to the elementary school to eat in the cafeteria. However, crowding the entire school into buses every afternoon while maintaining social distancing is an impossible task. In addition, this required disinfecting the buses before and after the trip. This was also a challenge considering the tight daily schedule the school follows. "The timing just didn't work. The simpler solution was just to bring it to them, which seems simple but has been a little more difficult in practice."

In the classroom, teachers have coped well with the adjustments so far. At the High School, desks must be disinfected between class changes and students are required to wear masks between periods. The elementary school classes remain together in the same room throughout the day, so there is less struggle related to disinfecting and moving students from place to place, though students are required to wear masks in the hallways. Fortunately, since Chouteau County doesn't currently have any cases, masks are not required in the classroom. This is due to the governor's recent clarification that students do not have to wear masks in classrooms, as long as social distancing can be maintained. "Our kids have been great about it. They just put their masks on when they walk through the halls," Heather pointed out when asked if it has been a challenge to manage the masks with the students. The elementary school was able to manage the lunch schedule through the purchase of additional tables. Since students are together in the classroom all day, they are not required to spread out during meals. However, classes must be kept 6 feet apart. This was accomplished by placing students at new tables around the cafeteria.

One other area of change related to special classes and recess. Special classes, like music, now involve teachers coming to the classroom rather than students coming to the teacher. For example, Mr. Bond now goes to each individual classroom or meets with students in the library to teach music instead of students coming to the music room. The reason for this is that the music room is carpeted, which cannot be disinfected as easily as the tiled floor in the rest of the building. Currently, elementary students are doing all of their physical education classes outdoors, which is typical for this time of year. The school is still working on a plan for what to do when the weather gets colder. Many schools have either cancelled or shifted their PE classes toward a health education focused curriculum to deal with Covid regulations. Recess is also still outdoors, but looks a little different. The playground is now divided into zones. Classes are each assigned a zone to play in. This way, students remain with their grades and social distance is maintained between grades. Hand washing before and after recess is now required.

Heather pointed out that many of the potential challenges the school has had to adapt to have been mitigated through the tireless efforts of Charlie Sipler, Maryetta Engle, and Kelly Haaland. The trio worked hard through the summer planning how the school would implement the Covid protections. Maryetta made certain the school had adequate supplies on hand, organized hampers by the doors with masks for the students, and hand sanitation stations at each entrance.

To deal with the need for masks, the school contracted with Donita Darlington, who made five hundred fabric masks. "Which is enough for every kid to have a new one every day of the week, but we have a schedule of laundering them every night, and they're put out for the kids to use," Heather explained regarding the plan that was developed to accommodate the mask mandate.

Heather credits the hard work of the staff and kids to the success of the first week of school with Covid regulations. She frequently praised the attitudes, adaptability, and efforts of everyone involved.