Guest Columnist

9 ways Iowa can more safely reopen elementary schools

We can protect children and deliver a quality education

(Union photo by Ashley Duong)
(Union photo by Ashley Duong)

I teach online college courses. It’s not easy. It’s not a matter of putting a few lectures on the internet and doling out assignments on a weekly or daily basis. It takes a lot of interaction — not just Zoom meetings weekly or daily, but most of all a lot of preplanning and course development, and management of the structure to support the interaction.

In my humble opinion, school districts do not have the infrastructure to sustain a highly interactive presence for all of their students, and online delivery of curriculum was not in the preparation courses for many educators. So how can the opening of schools be handled? Procedures for grades 6-12 can and probably should look different from those procedures for elementary. For now, I will just address some of my suggestions for long-term elementary delivery of education (and this is based on decades of teaching elementary students in classrooms and in the library environment).

1. Get those class sizes to 10 or less per class.

2. While I’d like to say masks are mandated — that’s not going to happen. I’ve seen primary students in action; might work for upper elementary but questionable there as well.

3. Sequester each classroom (remember 10 or less; one adult) during the day. Once in the room — stay in the room (except for controlled recesses).

4. Many schools have exterior doors to their classrooms — use those for classes if at all possible. Otherwise, stagger arrival times in 10-minute intervals so travel through central hallways involves just the 10 children in a specific class.

5. Take temperatures each day before entering classroom.

6. Sanitize and wash hands often and routinely — young children will deal with this just fine. Establish a routine — they love routine.

7. Shorten the student day to accommodate teacher planning before and after students are in attendance; and that allows for staggered beginnings and dismissals.

8. Lunches delivered to each classroom.

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9. Recesses are staggered — so various playground areas have only the specific classrooms together.

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Now what about art, music, PE? There are a couple of ways this could be handled. One of the ways involves reassigning specialists to regular classrooms (depending on certification) and incorporating these curriculum areas to be delivered within the classroom by the classroom teacher. And the library — students need books; classroom collections can be rotated to classrooms on a bi-weekly basis, with managed checkout. This column cannot address all the details of what might be needed — and there are more details. But the details are thought out, and workable. And yes, districts will need to hire more teachers, acquisition more classroom space (store fronts, church classrooms, convert some larger rooms to divided rooms). Maybe we do not need as many administrators. Maybe we need to reallocate our resources. Maybe we even need to fund our educational system in a sustainable manner — on a permanent basis.

Those seriously planning for school re-openings are welcome to contact me for more details and questions. How would art be incorporated into the day’s activities? Teachers may not sing or play an instrument, or read music, how would that work? Is physical education going to be part of the day?

Certainly, we can protect children and deliver a quality education; we just need to value children enough to do it. “The true character of society is revealed in how it treats its children,” Nelson Mandela, Sept. 27, 1997.

Sharron McElmeel is an online instructor in the University of Wisconsin — Stout’s College of Education, Hospitality, Health and Human Sciences Teaching, Learning and Leadership. She has three decades of teaching experience in the Cedar Rapids schools as a classroom teacher and as a library media specialist. schoolplans@mcelmeel.com

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