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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.

Picture of library shelves with “caution do not enter” tape.
Desks are separated to maintain physical distance in a Stoneham, Massachusetts, classroom. Credit: Eileen Wood

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.

During a back-to-school supply distribution day at KIPP TEAM Academy, a charter school in Newark, New Jersey, students picked up books they could read at home. Credit: Jessica Shearer
The KIPP TEAM Academy, in Newark, New Jersey, hosted a socially distanced distribution day where students received traditional school supplies along with tech to support online learning. Credit: Jessica Shearer

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.

Seventh grade teacher Mia Terziev introduces her students to their new outdoor classroom, called the Oakroom, at the Marin Waldorf School in San Rafael, California. The students created cushions for their tree stump seats during an orientation day in early September. Credit: Michael Weber
Teacher Melinda Martin worked with students and parents to transform a garden into an outdoor Covid classroom for third graders at the Marin Waldorf School in San Rafael, California. Credit: Michael Weber
Second grade teacher Gail Weger gives a student his cushion to complete a sewing project for his outdoor seat at the Marin Waldorf School in San Rafael, California. Credit: Michael Weber
Teachers Has Pineda, left, and Adam Stopeck meet with students to preview their new schedule. The Marin Waldorf School in San Rafael, California, converted a garden for the sixth graders’ outdoor classroom during the pandemic. Credit: Michael Weber
First graders take a tour of outdoor classrooms with teacher Roland Baril at the Marin Waldorf School in San Rafael, California. Credit: Michael Weber

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.”

Navajo Technical University instructor Julia Bales leads an interpersonal communications course on Aug. 31. The university installed sneeze guards in classrooms to accommodate hybrid classes that have students on campus at least one day a week. Credit: Daniel Vendever
Melvin Foster, a science laboratory technician at Navajo Technical University, oversees an Aug. 31 class activity with biology students Darlene Wilson and Breanna Thompson. The students had to identify white blood cells, which help the body fight against viral infections. Credit: Daniel Vendever
Bay Mills Community College instructor Natalia Chugunov, left, leads an introduction to biology course for students Madalyn Leask, Thomas Stephens III and Elizabeth Schnell. The college, which serves the Ojibwe community in northern Michigan, has students use face shields in science labs and separates them with plexiglass partitions at each desk. Credit: Kendra Voris

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.

In a hybrid class on Sept. 8, students at The Village School in Houston learn to play “La Bamba” on makeshift instruments they can find on campus and at home. Credit: The Village School

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.

Doug Carroll, an English and broadcasting teacher, prepares to instruct his students remotely from his Covid classroom at Paradise High School, in California. Credit: Larry Johnson
Columbus, Ohio, mother Amy Sumner hosts a learning pod for her 10-year-old daughter, Caitlin, left, and children from two other families after their schools started the year with fully remote instruction. Credit: Amy Sumner

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. Credit: Skylar Primm

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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Neal Morton is the Western education reporter for The Hechinger Report, covering 10 states in the West: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. Neal...

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