When local schools open their doors next week for the first time since March, students won't be stepping back into classrooms as if nothing has changed. Everything has changed.
And not just physically, though that will be the most obvious difference. With fewer desks to accommodate social distancing, classrooms look sparse. Signs everywhere remind students (and staff) to wear masks, wash hands and use sanitizer. Directional arrows on the floor aim to maintain a safe and orderly flow of traffic so that students are less likely to crowd each other in hallways.
Many students will no doubt miss their classmates, some of whom they haven't seen since March. That's because in the Monomoy District, a quarter of the student body has opted for fully remote learning. At the elementary and middle school levels, the majority of students will be in school daily. The size of the district's school buildings allows students to spread out in accordance with state guidelines; it's one positive aspect of the region's dwindling enrollment. At the high school, students will be on a two days in school, one day remote learning schedule. Fewer kids will be traversing the hallways, which should help make social distancing easier to accomplish. Wearing masks all day may be more difficult to get used to, and already the term “mask break” has woven its way into the lexicon.
Teachers have been training to incorporate “hybrid” learning — sometimes remote, sometimes live — into lesson plans to encompass disparate subjects. Monomoy officials say they are more prepared now than in the spring to do this, and also to switch to all-remote learning should that become necessary. Nauset High School has had to do that already, thanks to poor ventilation systems in its aging buildings. Some Nauset teachers were still working this week to adapt lesson plans to online platforms.
While the whole process of determining what school would look like this fall has been cumbersome and problematic, with much of it dependent on a series of shifting state guidelines, we've been most impressed by Monomoy, which also led the switch to remote learning last spring. Administration officials were transparent as they planned what school would look like this fall and kept parents and the community informed with regular and detailed communications. Nauset less so; in fact, some parents posted on our Facebook page that they learned that the high school would be remote-only from us, not the school. During these times, when situations can change quickly, good communication is critical.
Given the region's comparatively low rate of COVID-19 infection and the strict measures many local communities have taken to mandate face coverings and limit gatherings, we have some hope that the school year will go well. Nauset High, we expect, will work out its ventilation issues and be able to welcome back students, and we trust that the precautions and intense planning done by Monomoy will ensure a safe, though very different, learning environment.