If you think I am nervous about returning to school, you are exactly right. Scared right down to my shoe tops, buster. If a child gets this virus – and half a million American youngsters have – chances are they will have a fever and some discomfort and will overcome that. There is no guarantee, of course, because a child can end up on a ventilator as easily as the older folks.
The odds are surely not in my favor. My doctor says statistics point out that 80 percent of the U.S. fatalities have come from individuals my age or older and that as a former major surgery patient, I am 12 times more likely than the average person to contract this virus. Not very comforting.
Still, as far as precautions, our Mercer County and West Virginia guidelines have been about as good as anything I could have hoped for. Our school is clean, has been and will be scrubbed down on a regular basis and the custodians are like squirrels – cleaning everything in sight. What a wonderful job they are doing. Counselors, too, have gone above and beyond trying to balance ever-changing schedules.
We have heard all the guidelines from our principal(s) and administration on several occasions and reviewed the back-to-school plans. Both we and our students have been given masks and a routine to follow for every minute of the school day. That has been a real challenge at Bluefield High School, in part because the building itself is old enough to qualify for Social Security (it opened in 1956) so some of the modern conveniences that many newer buildings have are lacking.
We do not have an open atrium or quad-type area and our cafeteria is in the basement so there are unique challenges here that many schools do not have to overcome. After much thought, however, our administration has come up with a good plan. They have moved several teachers to different rooms and so made it possible to have the ninth grade in one area, the sophomores in another, and the upperclassmen in their area. There will have to be some movement, of course, but mainly, the students are cloistered in the same area.
Lunch presents its own challenges but, again, the plan is for food to be brought to designated areas for each grade level at a pre-determined time and that is designed to keep contact to a minimum. I am impressed with the thought that went into that and confess I would likely not have been able to come up with a solution like that.
Thinking back to my own days at Pocahontas High School under the wise but firm guidance of the late Gaza Kovach, our principal, I feel like I am at home with some of the rules now in place here at BHS. We have stairways designated for going “up” and others for going “down.” We will use the right side of the hallway to move in either direction, leaving the middle as open as possible. Signs are posted in the hallways encouraging all of us to maintain our six-foot separation. Every classroom has guidelines for COVID-19 safety.
We are trying virtual learning, remote learning and an early-semester schedule where students attend on a staggered schedule. Every child will have a computer which will in most classes be supplemented by traditional textbooks and regular contact via Schoology and/or phone calls.
As we know, keeping clean is a top priority. Each classroom teacher has a huge bottle of hand sanitizer, plenty of wipes and as we need any extra supplies. We have already been told they will be made available. Nobody says that is perfect but in today’s world, it seems to me that the “powers that be” are trying to help as much as possible.
Even before we start school, bus drivers are going to be our first line of defense. Social distance seating, providing masks and going over rules en route to class will be done. We will have teachers at selected doors checking for masks, answering any questions and directing traffic in the proper direction for classes and grade level before the first bell ever rings.
We have designated arrival times, posted new schedules and will maintain times for evening bus departures, driving students, children being picked up by relatives and walkers. During the day, no food is to be carried in and all visitors must check in and wait in proper areas. Naturally, we will have to work our way through the situation but it does seem we are trying hard to do the right thing.
I like the way Jim Justice and the government has designated colors and regulations. Sure, there are glitches but, once again, it is clear that safety is a priority. Better to try something and keep working to make it better. What we have here is much better than a majority of states where the virus has run rampant.
So, as far as possible, I feel like the precautions in place are as good as they can be in this uncertain time when parents, grandparents, children and teachers are all trying to find a safe place where they can function.
Now, let’s all keep those masks on and work together from a safe distance.
Larry Hypes, a teacher at Bluefield High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist. Contact him at email@example.com