School Plans Re-Opening Amidst Pandemic
August 15, 2020
Most school years, students go into the first day wondering if they will have classes with their friends, who they will sit with at lunch and if they will like their teachers. However, this school year, students wonder what the classrooms will look like, which of their friends are doing virtual learning and how they can stay healthy.
“We are going to do everything possible to keep staff and students safe,” Superintendent Telena Wright said. “We want to partner with parents and students to have a successful, safe, and healthy year.”
The school district will implement several measures to keep students safe, such as mandatory masks, plexiglass shields, Tri-Fold dividers and Electrostatic sprayers. Additionally, both students and staff will have their temperatures taken before walking into the building and anyone exceeding a temperature of 100 degrees will be sent home.
“Any fabric materials that were used as chairs have been replaced with wipeable surfaces like leather, vinyl, plastic,” biology teacher Deserae Good said. “Students will come in and sanitize with hand sanitizer that I will have on a small table right by my door. Lysol wipes will be there as well for students to grab and wipe down their area before we get started with class. During class time, those at tables will have dividers and I have the luxury of having lab tables as well to space kids out. During labs, each table will have alcohol wipes to clean lab equipment that can’t be washed, mandatory masks during all labs, and sanitation of safety goggles in bleach water.”
The school will also encourage the use of independent work and limit group activities.
“Students will be seated facing the front of the room in rows, instead of a previously used seating arrangement, where students were clustered together in groups to collaborate,” English teacher Melanie Henderson said. “There will still be collaboration, but it will be carefully distanced, along with the use of plexiglass dividers.”
Teachers have made modifications to some in-class activities, such as science labs.
“Some labs that we typically would have done can’t be done this year because they use cheek swabs or breathing into a cup,” Good said. “For those, we will replace it with a virtual lab analysis instead. Labs will have additional safety incorporated such as wipes, washing of hands before and after, clean safety goggles, masks. Those that are virtual will still participate in labs through webcams placed on tripods at the lab table. Those that are virtual will be responsible for recording data for the lab group.”
Students and staff will be required to wear their masks all day long, except during lunch and while actively working out. Students will be held responsible for keeping track of their masks and wearing it when necessary.
“The goal is not a punishment as much as it is training,” Principal John King said. “Obviously, refusal to follow the requirement will be taken much more seriously than a student simply forgetting – but willing to quickly follow the rules when asked.”
Students were given the option of returning to campus for school or taking classes online from home. Virtual learners will be required to check in at the beginning of each class period on Google Meets and participate in all activities.
“Most classes will be somewhat smaller in numbers due to virtual students,” King said. “However, some classes will be close to normal size. We will do our best to spread kids out as much as possible.”
Although teachers are looking forward to seeing their students again, some have hesitations going back to school in August.
“I am always happy and excited to get a school year started and see my ‘kids,’” Good said. “I have conflicting feelings because I want my own children to see their friends and have fun, but because my husband and I are both teachers we didn’t have the choice like others to keep them home. I wish we could have waited to start in person or perhaps pushed the start of the school year off to the end of September if the TEA would have accepted more of these ideas that were presented.”
Even though the school year has changed drastically for students and teachers alike, there are positives that have come out of the current situation.
“Personally, I’ve learned to slow down,” Theatre Director Melissa Toomer said. “As a theatre person, we run from one project/production into the next. There’s no offseason. When the brakes were slammed, I was left with nothing on the calendar. As a teacher, the only thing I can control is my reaction to a situation. Therefore, I will be as positive as I can be and ask for grace and patience.”
This school year will also be unique because of the difference in out-of-school activities. The theater department has no production planned, and the UIL teams are hoping to have a spring season.
“While there are no productions currently scheduled, we will find new methods of performing, whether that is a radio play, readers theatre or some other method,” Toomer said. “Our annual state festival is happening virtually, college auditions will still happen and so we will make the best of the situation, however we can.”
Between the uncertainty of the future and the chaos that comes with starting a new school year, teachers and staff members have been hard at work for several weeks- if not months- in anticipation of this year.
“Everyone needs to understand how much work teachers and staff have put into starting this school year under these circumstances and we were not given as much time as we needed,” Good said. “We were given the same amount of time to prepare as we would for any normal school year. Throw in preparing for a virtual world during a pandemic and additional safety protocols, classroom setup, daily presentation changes, technology changes, teachers and staff retiring, new hires so close to the first day of school, and all of that within the same amount of time. The school year starts Monday and we will do the absolute best we can to make it as normal as possible and our students will leave the school year having learned, been pushed academically, felt loved and accepted, heard, and cared for.”
Everyone is approaching this school year with a different mindset, and it is crucial students keep this in mind as the year starts.
“We need to remember that we are all better together,” Henderson said. “Divided we fall, but together we stand. It is crucial that we exhibit love, kindness, and respect. Also, we must extend grace to one another, because everyone is fighting their own battles.”
As much as the district is working to keep everyone safe, spending the entire school year on campus is not a given, and there’s no telling how long students can expect to have in-person classes.
“Your veteran teachers have all become first-year teachers as we navigate new ways of incorporating technology, teaching in-person and virtually at the same time,” Toomer said. “We’re going to get it wrong and make mistakes, but that is how true learning takes place.”
School will resume both in-person and virtual learning on Monday.
“Obviously, I am concerned for the safety and well-being of all staff, students, and family members,” Henderson said. “However, I am very excited to be reunited with my Argyle family. I am blessed to be a part of such a wonderful community. Face to face interactions and connections cannot be replaced. Perhaps Argyle ISD will pave the way to show that in-person education can be done effectively, even in the midst of a pandemic.”
To read Principal King’s letter to students and parents, click here.