EMS Launches New Year With COVID Precautions

Rebecca Yutzy teaches a 7th grade Spanish class outside.
Rebecca Yutzy teaches a 7th grade Spanish class outside.

EMS launched its “every student, every day” in person plan for school during the 2020-21 academic year on August 25 with 354 students K-12. A few families in each grade opted to do home-based distance learning as precaution due to specific health concerns. But more than 95% were in person on site with an abundance of new protocol and practice in place.

“We recognize we are privileged as a smaller school to be able to do this,” acknowledged Paul Leaman, head of school. “We empathize with administrators, teachers, and families of area schools who are not able to make in-person learning possible and wish that every student and teacher could be together.”

The precautions possible in a smaller school setting include ensuring that everyone wears a face covering at all times in the building (and when outside, unless consistently distanced by six feet), desks at a minimum of six feet, controlled hallway traffic flow, lunch in classroom groups at specific times, and commitment by all families to do daily home health screens with additional screens by administrators at the door each morning.

Students are limited to interacting only with those students in their four class periods in the upper level, and in their grade-level class in the lower level.

“This is great,” said one new high school student to an administrator, early in the week. “Anything to get out of the house,” he noted. But another named what many are feeling. “I miss my friends. They aren’t in any of my classes so we don’t see each other.”

“With three days of school completed, we are seeing where the hard parts are,” says Leaman. “Teachers and students are happy to be in person, but miss interacting with, and even seeing each other.”

A faculty debrief on the Friday work day during the first week included brainstorming about how to create safe ways for students to get to know newcomers and connect with peers more.

It was also a time for affirmation and celebration of a marathon, exhausting week. Justin King, high school principal, celebrated the ingenuity and tenacity of faculty who are teaching in person with face coverings, including distance learners joining the classroom in real time, and posting content for learners who are doing distance learning on their own time.

“I want you to keep taking risks and feel free to fail,” he told them. “What better thing to model for our students than trying something new, maybe even screwing it up, acknowledging mistakes, and getting back up to try again. We can learn through failure and that is courageous,” he said, referring to vulnerability expert Brene Brown’s research.

Choir director Jared Stutzman had success in the first week with students standing distanced, outside, singing in megaphones. Cleaning the equipment between periods is an added step that is well worth the effort, he said, sharing a video on the second day with administrators of students singing .”Bright Morning Stars,” an Appalachian folk song arranged by Jay Althouse. Watch the video

The in person aspect of school could change any day with precautions and protocols at the ready if a positive case of COVID-19 should be identified in any student or staff member. And in-person students are ready to swing to distance learning if they learn of an exposure that could jeopardize classmates.

“It’s a complex process,” says Maria Archer, K-8 principal. “We are humbly grateful for our teachers, students, and families for their attitude of safety and care for everyone. We are happy to have the children back in school!”

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