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In Florida and Wisconsin, schools have padlocked or sealed drinking fountains to keep kids from using them. Students at a private school in San Rafael, California, are learning in outdoor classrooms created from tree stumps and hay bales. And in Houston, students at home and on campus played songs together on makeshift instruments for a hybrid music class.
Those are just a few examples of how the coronavirus pandemic has transformed school buildings and inspired new “Covid classrooms” this fall, as illustrated by photographs and videos readers submitted to The Hechinger Report.
As more schools reopen, we want to continue sharing your photos from around the country. You can find directions here for how to submit your images and videos.
A few weeks before students returned to Biloxi High School in Mississippi, broadcast journalism teacher Olivia Dunwoody joined a virtual faculty meeting to review new safety procedures the administration had set for the new year.
Dunwoody and other teachers wanted to share that guidance widely with students and teachers in advance of school reopenings. So they recruited members of the student council and a theater group to demonstrate the new procedures — for arriving at bus stops and at school, sanitizing classrooms and behaving in the cafeteria, among other rules — in a series of videos.
At one school in Stoneham, Massachusetts, classroom desks are spread far apart to maintain physical distance among students. Federal and state guidelines differ on how much distancing is necessary.
Elsewhere, a school used caution tape to prevent students from roaming through bookshelves in the library. While the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) has encouraged librarians to follow social distancing and manage traffic flow in stacks, nearly a quarter of school-level librarians told the AASL in an August survey that their school’s library would not be open or used at all.
In Newark, New Jersey, more than 200 students and families joined the KIPP TEAM Academy, a charter school that started the year remotely, for a back-to-school book swap and supply distribution day in August. The charter network’s Liberty and Sunrise academies in Miami held similar events, not pictured here, for students to pick up laptops, uniforms and other supplies in a safe and socially distanced way, said spokeswoman Jessica Shearer.
“This event allowed students to safely see some of their teachers in person before the start of the school year online,” she said in an email.
On the West Coast, the Marin Waldorf School in San Rafael, California, moved instruction completely outdoors when it resumed preschool through eighth grade classes on Sept. 8.
Admissions director Chantal Valentine said the private school recently built 13 outdoor classrooms, using tree stumps as seats and bales of hay for walls in redwood groves.
Meghan Mayer, a language arts teacher and popular TikTok creator in Sarasota, Florida, posted this tour of Brookside Middle School to show viewers safety precautions — including one-way stairwells and plastic dividers on students’ desks — being adopted during the pandemic.
“No more water fountains,” Mayer commented regarding the trash bags that had been taped over a pair of drinking fountains. “Students have to bring their own water bottles, and they have to be clear plastic.”
“I wish the sanitizer smelled good, but honestly it smells awful, so bring your own.”Meghan Mayer, teacher in Sarasota, Florida
Her video also included a gallon of hand sanitizer that Mayer said was in every schoolroom: “I wish the sanitizer smelled good, but honestly it smells awful, so bring your own.”
At Navajo Technical University, roughly 1 in 4 students have no access to the internet at home, prompting the public, tribally controlled university in Crownpoint, New Mexico, to search for alternatives to remote learning. Some students attend hybrid classes at least one day a week on campus, where the university has installed sneeze guards and limited access to the library, according to Daniel Vandever, the communications director.
Enrollment in the university’s vocational programs, which prepare students for jobs in the skilled trades, has declined, since those courses typically require face-to-face instruction. But Vandever said instructors have found workarounds: for example, dividing classes in fields such as welding technology, with half the students working indoors while the others work outside.
The Village School, a private pre-K through high school in Houston, reopened with hybrid classes this fall. In these visuals, middle schoolers learned to play “La Bamba” with plastic buckets and other materials they could find in class or at home.
At K-12 schools that stayed fully remote, parents and teachers alike have gotten creative.
At Paradise High School in Northern California, English and broadcasting teacher Doug Carroll prepared to instruct students from his empty classroom in the school building. Amy Sumner, in Columbus, Ohio, began the year with her three children in fully remote classes, but their schools have since switched to a hybrid model.
“The bright red padlock on a water fountain … just struck me as sad.”Skylar Primm, teacher, High Marq Environmental Charter School
Sumner created a “learning pod” with two other families and converted her basement into a classroom, where she oversees work sent from the district and manages individualized education programs for two of the kids. Sumner’s mother-in-law also helps with a virtual art class.
“I hosted Zoom meetings this summer to decide on a school name and mascot, and the Sumnerds Private Academy, Home of the Brainiacs, was created,” she said. “So far it’s going great!”
Staff at the High Marq Environmental Charter School in Montello, Wisconsin, locked up a drinking fountain to prevent students from using it.
Teacher Skylar Primm noticed the change while visiting the school in August for a much-delayed outdoor graduation ceremony for the Class of 2020.
“The bright red padlock on a water fountain … just struck me as sad,” he said in an email.
After four weeks of in-person classes, High Marq has yet to record any cases of coronavirus transmission on campus, said Primm. But “Wisconsin’s cases are exploding,” he added, “so I think we all feel like the walls are closing in.”
— Caroline Preston contributed reporting to this story.
This story about Covid classrooms was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for the Hechinger newsletter.
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