Virus means school start comes with many changes
Masked students and staff walk through the halls during a transition between periods. This year students have 10 minutes between classes so they can get a snack and safely distance and so that teachers have time to sanitize desks. (CAITLYN AGOSTINE | Alpha-Omega)
By ROHEY BARROW and MAYA RISH
SNN Staff Writers
Because of COVID-19, the Lakewood 2020-2021 school year has started off differently than any year before it. With the school split between MyPCS and in-person learning, along with the new safety precautions everyone must abide by, adjusting hasn’t been easy.
When school started Aug. 24, students were met with a different bell schedule, 10-minute breaks between classes, classroom desks spaced out due to social distancing and lunch at the end of the day. In addition, students struggled to learn a new online platform called Canvas.
Despite the changes, principal Erin Savage said the school start went smoothly.
“We have proven again that we can weather any storm,” Savage told teachers in an opening day email.
Sophomore Robert Scopel described the first week as laid back.
“We got to learn about the teachers. ... I'm glad to be back. I get to see my friends again, and I'm learning at a good pace,” he said.
Still, school looked very different.
During the summer, teachers took training courses on how to use Canvas, but many MyPCS teachers and students are still facing challenges. These have ranged from teachers not having classes set up on Canvas to students being ignored by teachers and not having the right supplies for school like textbooks or art supplies.
One of the biggest challenges teachers are having is balancing their online and in-person students.
“Naturally the teacher is going to pay more attention to the kids right in front of them,” Savage said. “There are students at home who aren’t getting as much attention.”
One problem, Savage said, is that it is hard for teachers not to move around in the classroom, but when they do, the online students can’t see them.
New art teacher Sandra Bourne said her first week went “smoother than expected,” but she wishes all of her students were either in-person or online. Staying in one place trying to teach both at the same time, she said, is difficult.
“Teaching simultaneously kind of freezes me,” she said.
As of Friday, there were 434 face-to-face students and 556 online students at Lakewood, Savage said, and in-person classes have no more than 20 students.
For brick and mortar students, one of the biggest differences is lunch; now at the end of the day, students can’t sit in the cafeteria with their friends or even share a bench or table outside. Some students have the option to leave if their parents approve, so there are fewer students attending the lunch period.
"I didn't predict these circumstances,” said junior Sebastien Brown, who is attending Lakewood in-person. “It was quiet because of no communication and friends. I was struggling to breathe due to the mask that smells like a grandma."
Junior Reilly Webb, a MyPCS student, said some of her online classes are “really confusing” while others have gone smoothly.
“It’s really weird, because it’s nothing like the end of the last year. I’m worried that I won’t do as well in my classes, but I feel that it’s safer for my family and I for me to learn this way,” Webb said.
The school district is trying to stem the spread of the virus through mandatory masks and strict cleaning protocols.
All staff and students at Lakewood must wear a mask at all times, covering their mouths and noses, which takes some getting used to. Overall, though, most are adhering to the policy. If students refuse to wear a mask, the teacher sends them to an administrator. The administrator talks with the student about the importance of wearing a mask, but if the student still doesn’t want to wear a mask, they have the choice of being a MyPCS online student. There are no disciplinary actions, assistant principal Cristina Calderon said.
“Students have been very respectful, (and) teachers know that they are setting the example of having to wear masks,” Calderon said.
However, Calderon said the staff now must look out for things than usual.
“Now we’re not only monitoring for student behavior, we are now monitoring are they wearing their mask? Are they socially distancing?” she said.
Keeping the school sanitized is another big challenge, and plant operators are working overtime. Before the school year started, they had to get rid of any clutter or extra furniture in classrooms so there was enough space for desks to be spaced out. All teachers have a sanitizing kit for classrooms, which includes a bottle of spray disinfectant and a rag as well as hand sanitizer to help with the cleaning.
Every night, after each classroom gets sanitized, a red door hanger goes on the outside door handle to let teachers know the room has been sanitized. If there is no door hanger, teachers then let an administrator know and will move to an empty room and start class.
In the event that a student or teacher does get sick or is exposed to the virus, the class that was exposed, including the teacher, will quarantine for 10 to 12 days and continue school using the MyPCS platform. The classroom is then deep cleaned and sanitized. After the teacher and students are deemed safe, they can return. If a student is sick, they can continue school through the online platform or wait until they have recovered to resume school.
While in-person students must still follow the dress code, Savage said there is no regular school dress code for online kids because it can’t be controlled. “It just must be appropriate for school,” she said.
Another concern is sports, which is happening but with restrictions, Savage said. The first football game is Sept. 11, but the stadium will only be at 25 percent capacity. In her weekly Spartan Update, Savage said tickets to all games must be bought online. No tickets will be sold at the gate. In addition, games will be live-streamed, and more information will be forthcoming on how to buy $10-a-month packages to see those games.
After the first quarter, if the virus is under control, everyone is hoping to be back in school.
“I think … everyone wants everything to go back to normal: sports, extracurricular activities, students being able to socialize,” Calderon said. “We miss that for sure, not just the students, but all of us.”
- Staff Writers Jay Sanders and Caitlyn Agostine contributed to this story.