Welcome back to another installation of our “Parenting in the Pandemic,” series. If you missed anything, catch up on the series here and here. Today we are joined by one of my best friends, learning specialist Omolade Otulaja. Omolade is my right hand whenever I have any concerns about what a teacher is doing (or not doing), for Caleb & Joshua. She is currently the 9th & 10th-grade math teacher for Kipp NJ. She’s been a teacher for 13 years, working everywhere from China to Dubai. She is well versed in special education instructional techniques for students with autism, learning disabilities, speech or language impairment, multiple physical disabilities, emotional disabilities, and intellectual disabilities.
I know many of you have no choice but to send children to school even if it’s only for the two days a week many places are offering. Omolade has laid out the plan for safety measures, many schools are following below:
- Masks: All staff will be required to wear a mask during arrival, dismissal, and while in the school building
- Cohorts: Children will be grouped in smaller cohorts, staying in one room throughout the day (a limited number of teachers will rotate into the classroom to work with the cohort).
- Schedule: Teachers and school staff will be in person up to 4-5 days per week (depending on the final model, which will also be informed by family input)
- Hybrid Model: Teachers will be teaching students in person some days, and students who are at home (over Zoom) on other days
- Limit In-Person Interactions: We will limit the number of adults in rooms to prevent the spread of the virus, which will mean professional development, one-on-one, and other staff meetings will remain virtual
- PPE: We have purchased masks, face shields, hand sanitizer, and other cleaning supplies for staff and are increasing our cleaning protocols at each campus
- Temperature Checks: Each day when students arrive, we will take their temperatures before they enter the school building; anyone with a fever of 100.4 degrees or over will be sent home
Let’s reimagine a typical school day for today’s health climate, with social-distancing and safety at the forefront:
- Separate students by 6 feet in classrooms and school grounds. In some cases 6 feet will be impossible, so we will separate students by at least 5 feet with plexiglass partitions between students and they will be required to wear masks
- Maintain students in the same group all day and limit the group size based on social distancing measures
- Limit student transitions as much as possible (teachers switch classrooms and students stay in place)
- Maintain single direction traffic in hallways
- Maintain 6 feet of social distance for recess and PE
- Limit the number of students on buses to half capacity and require masks
- Not hold student assemblies or other groupings where cohorts mix with other cohorts
- Cancel all extracurricular activities for the first quarter and revisit quarterly (we are still awaiting guidance on fall sports)
- Staggering arrival and dismissal
- Serving meals in classrooms
- Instituting hand-washing and sanitizing procedures at numerous points during the day
- Minimizing the sharing of student classroom materials and wiping down desks and objects at the end of each day
“This is not the time to shrink away; community voices are needed to ensure support for our kids.“Omolade Otulaja, Learning Specialist Kipp, NJ
Omolade’s advice to the community of parents sending their kids back to school is, in-person instruction should correlate with your level of comfortability with the school’s reopening plan. She also advocates that middle school-aged and up attend in-person sessions only if it is feasible for the family. Younger children tend to be more at risk due to still-developing immune systems and may have more difficulty adhering to the mask and social distancing mandates in school. No matter the age, if you choose to send your child to school, work to build relationships with the school’s administration and governing bodies. If they are having a virtual meeting, show up. If there is a Zoom PTA occurring, put it on your calendar and attend. Band together with other parents to ensure your concerns are heard. This is not the time to shrink away; community voices are needed to ensure support for our kids – both to ensure their schooling continues and their health remains a priority for all stakeholders. Demand the school make its practices fully transparent and push for answers. Be mindful that they may not have ALL the answers you seek because of the uniqueness of this situation and the myriad of resources needed to address the entirety of parental and community concerns. However, all schools should have an outline of their plans readily available to parents.
Furthermore, Omolade is a huge advocate of role-playing new situations with children to ensure they feel comfortable in unfamiliar spaces. Role-playing provides the opportunity for parents to gauge their child’s readiness level, script out responses, utilize critical thinking skills (what if…happens?), and increase their emotional and mental confidence. It is essential that we not only tell our children what to do but show them how to do it. Show your child what social distancing looks like in practice, such as going to the grocery store. Provide comfortable masks for them and praise them for proper wear (let them see YOU wearing it properly as well). Practice proper handwashing and hand sanitizer application techniques. Institute a routine for re-entry back into the house, monitor accordingly, and praise profusely. Prompt children to think of ways they can greet their peers that keep social distancing norms in mind, have them practice, and correct as needed. Allow children to express their sadness, anger, or anxiety with this current situation freely. Let them know how you feel as well to show empathy but provide messages of hope and encouragement frequently.
I hope this post helped to ease any concerns you may have had with sending your child or children back to school. Let me know if you have any questions about anything we have discussed in this series. HUGE thank you to all the educators who took the time to be a part of this series and lend their expertise to this topic. Denise Matthews, Cara Tait-Fanor, and Omolade Otulaja, you guys rock. I am praying for a safe school year for you and your respective teams. Parents, no matter what decision you have made in regards to school, I am lifting us ALL up in love and light. I wish all our scholars a safe and fruitful return to academia as well. I know this can’t be easy for them either. We are all doing the best we can! Thank you so much for reading, please continue to stay safe!