School After the Pandemic: What’s Next?

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused people to pivot and change the way they do everything — and this is especially true for schools. Southwest Ohio schools have adapted and grown in many ways, such as setting up quarantine areas in school clinics and hiring extra substitute teachers. Schools are already making plans to help the next year go as smoothly as possible, but what will 2021-22 look like for students and parents?

Some students who have been e-learning are eager to get back into the classroom this fall. But families also want options. To meet this need, Cincinnati Public Schools and many public schools around southwest Ohio will offer five-day in-person school, as well as full remote learning and blended learning in the 2021-2022 school year.

For public school districts and private schools, the decision to offer remote or in-person learning (or a hybrid method) has been discussed at length. That way, parents can make the decision that is best for their family.

With more research and science available on COVID-19, and vaccines being available to staff and older students, schools can improve their decision-making next year and build upon that progress.

At Summit Country Day School, wearing masks, wiping down materials and distancing desks became part of the normal culture. “We learned that fewer daily transitions for the children resulted in maintaining healthier cohorts of children in a more controlled setting, thus preventing the spread of the virus,” says Elaine Pearl, Associate Director of Admission at The Summit. The school made other changes, like serving lunches to pre-k and kindergarten children in their classrooms and closing the dining hall for half of the year. They also utilized plexiglass panels to divide rooms in half while keeping children spaced appropriately, and taught specialty classes outdoors when possible.

Given that the many schools in southwest Ohio have issued electronic devices to students and staff, they will be even better prepared to educate students in a variety of ways in the upcoming school year. Teachers will go into this year with virtual classroom experience, having offered classes “live” as well as asynchronous workplans. “Art and music studios at The Summit were reconfigured for distance learning,” Pearl says. “We suited the entire school (grades 1-12) with robotic swivel cameras to accommodate live-stream learning for those who could not safely attend in person.” They conducted parent conferences and prospective admission visits virtually.

Keeping the public informed via regular parent and staff updates was always high priority, and that is one area where schools have thrived. In their decision to operate in-person as much as was safely possible last year, The Summit made significant modifications to schedules, events and learning spaces. And this meant getting students, staff and families on board. “Offering frequent communication with our parents from the start was best practice and in return, we gained unwavering support,” Pearl says.

Related Article: Traveling with Young Kids During a Pandemic

School administrators and staff in southwest Ohio have learned that by working together, they can meet the needs of students, both academically and social/emotionally while keeping the learning environment as safe as possible. Many schools found a way to return to co-curricular events, like sports, music and theater for students attending school in-person.

In hindsight, many of the challenges presented last school year only strengthened the schools’ values that they’ve always held dear. “Our faculty and staff were unwavering in their commitment to in-person learning throughout the pandemic,” Pearl says. “They exhibited grace and wisdom throughout the process. Our students are true leaders of character and demonstrated tremendous resilience through a challenging year.”

As schools move into the new school year, administrators can celebrate the victories of the past year and the challenges they’ve overcome. By equipping their students and staff with technology, they were able to provide equitable education to a diverse array of students.

Most experts agree that kids and teachers will continue to wear masks at schools until widespread vaccination is available to students of all ages. There will likely be some modifications to the school day, including transportation, spacing out in the lunchroom, or modifications to extracurriculars. Schools will work extra hard to make up for any learning loss due to the pandemic, but they are already well on their way to ensuring students can access a safe learning environment this school year.

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