Rethinking education in COVID

Burt Baldwin, Ignacio - 08/06/2020
To the editor,
As fall approaches, there is much consternation and controversy over the opening of schools and how learning will take place in the coming months. As a retired educator, I have pondered what my life would be like if I was still teaching. Frankly, I would be very worried about my health and the health of my students. In the coming months, teachers, administrators, parents and students will be confronted with a myriad of questions and will have to negotiate the difficulties of deciding how the education process should take place.  How do you keep staff and students safe? What is the most suitable environment for learning? How do working parents deal with work and child supervision? How will students and teachers be able to interact?  How do you keep support staff safe? How do you deal with an asymptomatic student? How are lunches to be distributed? These are just a few of the issues that must be addressed if the school year is to be successful and safe.

Flexibility will have to be the norm in order for each district to decide on what will be the best environment for their learners. Districts should incorporate free testing for every student as soon as possible.

As a former teacher of 36 years, I have a few suggestions that come to mind. For 14 of those years, I taught environmental education for the Ignacio School District. Eighty percent of my lessons were taught outdoors.  Considering the high rate of contagion, this approach would help to mitigate the chances of spreading infection. The chances of contracting the virus is greatly reduced in an outdoor environment as aerosols are quickly dissipated.

I would suggest that districts utilize their environs as well as indoor facilities. Outdoor sessions could be taught as much as possible by establishing outdoor sectors where small groups of students could be taught, thus avoiding close proximity. Tents could be set-up during inclement weather. This would free up classrooms for the primary school learners and help with spacing as more classrooms would be available. The school day could be divided into morning and afternoon sessions, rotating students in and out of the building. Upper elementary students could be assigned activities on an individual basis, using clipboards, self-directed instruction and established work stations of discovery. There are numerous outdoor educational curricula available for just such occasions including winter environs.

Altering the school year calendar would also be helpful in reducing the spread of the virus. For example, the school year could be divided into two semesters.  The first semester would run from September through mid- November. The second semester could begin after Easter and run through July. This would prevent the spread of infections during the heart of the flu season. Another possibility is to allow secondary students to be taught using computers and the web. Seniors could opt for Zoom sessions with faculty and learn independently.  Graduation would be contingent on submitting a portfolio for review by the faculty.  

As the pandemic continues to plague our society, it is paramount that we begin to think of creative ways to meet our children’s educational needs. It will be up to every one of us to do our part. Older students may need to supervise their younger siblings. Evening learning sessions may be needed to accommodate certain learners.  In any case, there is much to contemplate.

As a rule, masks should be mandated as well as adequate distancing supervised, as suggested by the CDC.  Parents should be able to opt out and homeschool their children. The pandemic has affected everyone, it can only be eradicated if each and every one of us follows an agreed-upon consensus, a plan of action with protocols. If everyone follows a consistent procedure, things could improve. European governments have shown this to be true. These are perilous times, and immediate actions need to be taken, otherwise our children’s futures are in peril. It is up to all of us to work together to see this through. We have no choice!