On Monday, April 5, secondary students in Smithville and Liberty school districts returned to the classroom on a more full-time schedule.
For the remaining seven weeks of the school year, all secondary students in Smithville will go to class five days per week.
Previously, to keep the number of students in school buildings limited to aid physical distancing, students with last names starting with letters A through L attended in-school learning days Monday and Thursday and completed course work at home Tuesday and Friday. Those with last names starting with letters M through Z were in class Tuesday and Friday and took virtual courses Monday and Thursday.
At Smithville Middle School, Principal Tod Winterboer said rearranging rooms to accommodate the full student body and safety protocols for COVID-19 has not been an exact science, but teachers continue to be creative.
“It’s all dependent on the room space and the teacher,” he said. “We have basically two plans. There’s a checkerboard or we group cohorts in table clusters. As a staff, we went through the ideas and the teachers got to approve the patterns within the restraints of space.”
The school has approximately 429 students in seventh and eighth grade.
“Teachers have also eliminated some of the extra bookcases or other elements that are taking classroom space,” he said.
At the front of each room is a sanitation station. School protocol dictates hands are sanitized before every period. Winterboer said teachers also clean desks and chairs after each period.
“There was a nervous anticipation to seeing kids return,” he said. “The energy level will increase as we are doubling students in the building. Our kids have done wonderfully, rolling with changes and they will do it again. They are resilient. Being back in session in the school gives us the opportunity to relearn what a normal day looks like. Education is forever changing and we will change with it.”
For Robert Hedgecorth, Smithville executive director of support services, said the Centers for Disease Control’s alteration to recommend 3 feet of separation among children has been “a game changer.”
“There are kids that have not seen each other with the way the classes are divided by alphabet,” he said. “From a social-emotional standpoint, it’s a sense of normalcy.”
At Liberty Middle School, Principal Jeremy Bradham and Chris Gabriel, Lillian Schumacher Elementary principal and director of COVID response, discussed celebrating the return to the classroom four days per week, saying the district has done well with visual cues like one-way signs in halls and seats in the cafeteria. In the district, Wednesday remains a virtual learning day for all secondary students.
Bradham said the return to classrooms settings was like the first day of school all over again.
“We continue to be flexible as new information rolls in,” he explained. “The Clay County Health Center and the CDC have offered us the right details to move forward.”
Some changes include students carrying backpacks all day. Bradham said students also can’t congregate around lockers.
“They are so social,” he said. “We have 670 students with 120 virtual. That changes hallway passing.”
Gabriel said schools have been good models, demonstrating adaptability and the ability to pivot. Like Smithville, there are sanitizing stations in hallways and smaller sanitizer pumps near classroom doors.
“It’s exciting for the A and B days to be back together,” Bradham said.