Lower School Reopening: Comprehensive Protocols Lead to Success


Amelia Perrin and Mitchell Liu

With new pandemic protocols, kindergarteners and first graders returned to the School on October 19, after almost six months of distance learning. 

To create a safe learning environment amidst a global pandemic, the School implemented a series of strict protocols to ensure student and faculty safety. Lea Van Ness, the Head of the Lower School, said, “The biggest thing that we did was turn 12 homeroom classrooms into 24 to reduce class size.” 

 Students have weekly COVID testing and daily self-screening via the Magnus Health Screening App. Sanitation stations are also put in classrooms and strategic locations for hand washing. 

Before entering campus, students and staff must use the Magnus Health Screening app to ensure they don’t spread the virus. Families have to answer 10 questions, and if they answer yes to one of them, Jodi Biskup, the School’s nurse, will contact the family. 

Inside classes, students’ desks are six feet apart with plexiglass on each desk. Students are required to wear masks and stay six feet apart at all times. Students often spend time outdoors learning. Biskup added, “We have to keep the windows and doors open for increased ventilation, and we also have a certain traffic pattern or flow kids are supposed to follow.”

The combination of weekly COVID testing, daily COVID screening (on Magnus app), required masks, sanitation stations, loads of outdoor learning, and smaller class sizes seems to give parents a sense of trust and willingness to send their children back to school. Laura Alanis, a parent to a returning first grade student, said, “Weekly testing assuaged a lot of my fears, and I also think it’s been helpful that the school has been sharing pictures throughout each day.” The shared pictures reassure Alanis that students are always wearing masks and social distancing. Alanis adds that she felt a sense of trust with the School. “After having been in distance learning, I have so much confidence in the teachers because I’ve seen how agile they are on their feet,” Alanis said. 

By these accounts, the new comprehensive protocols have made the transition to in-person learning easy and smooth. Van Ness remarked that “all the kids are really good at masking and keeping their distance! They are all such troopers, and they definitely make this worthwhile.” 

Although every lower school teacher returned to campus to teach in person, understandably, not every student returned. The challenge for teachers is now simultaneously teaching students both in-person and via zoom. “It’s a lot of things to negotiate between trying to pay attention to kids online [and] trying to [keep] kids in person [focused],” said second grade teacher Chris Dunlap. However, the School is trying to reduce this burden. They recently gave select teachers, such as librarian Debra Hughes and lower school assistant head Leslie Powell, the roles of distant learning coordinators (DLC), who “[make] sure that distance learners have what they need, so teachers can solely focus on content rather than lack of materials or possible tech issues that students may be having from their homes,” Van Ness said.

The reopening of the lower school is paving a positive path for the return of other grades and students. Coupling the top-notch protocols with the successful kindergarten and first grade transition creates a strong sense of hope in the School’s ability to bring us back together. “Having in-person teaching is a better way of moving forward,” said Van Ness, “and we, as a school, are trying to make that happen to better the academic and social life of our students.” 

Here is some great footage of the K-1 return! (highlight reel): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udTE1csVfcE&feature=youtu.be