KALAMAZOO, Mich. — When Ms. Allen’s fifth-grade students returned to Paramount Charter Academy for the first day of school on Monday, she was excited to see them, she said. And, the kids were happy to see her and one another.
However she made sure to immediately go over the new social distancing rules at the school: everyone must wear masks, remain six-feet a part and keep their hands to themselves at all times, meaning no fist bumps or high fives.
In fact, she created a classroom contract on a neon-yellow poster board, put it on the chalkboard, and had all of the students sign it.
Then they read it out loud together.
“As a member of Miss Allen’s fifth grade class, I promise to be safe, respectful, and responsible. I promise to be kind and follow the Golden Rule,” they said in unison while Ms. Allen pointed to each word. “I will keep my hands, feet, and objects to myself.”
Ms. Allen said it was important to follow the rules this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s to help keep the school as safe as possible.
“It was so great to see the students and have them back in the classroom,” Ms. Allen said during an interview on Monday. “I missed seeing them and I know they missed being in school because I know it is a part of their routine and their lives.”
Now their routine included sitting six-feet away from their classmates. Ms. Allen said she moved the desks several feet a part, made sure hand sanitizer was handy and that there was a container for pens and pencils that students used and needed to be wiped down.
She also reminded them to wear their masks at all times, except during designated ‘mask-break’ times.
“For example in a kindergarten class, when we’re doing phonics lessons, the students were able to remove their masks so teachers can see how they’re sounding out letters,” said principal Christine Welc. “Then we have mask breaks outside with an additional recess added in the afternoon. You’ll just see a lot of singing of songs to teach kids how to make sure they’re keeping it on.”
So far, the kids are abiding by the new rules, Welc said. The adults are too, even though it can be hard for them as well.
“It’s just something natural to go and hug a kindergartner on their first day of school or high-five a middle-schooler,” Welc said. “So, it’s trying new things like an air-high-five or an elbow bump with somebody.”
Welc said at Paramount, which is a part of the National Heritage Academies, a larger network of charter schools, 50 percent of families opted for virtual learning for their kids which greatly reduced the number of students in classrooms.
NHA director David King saw it as a positive, he said.
“If you have eight kids in the classroom you’re going to get a lot more individualized attention from the teachers,” King said. “Generally we have 26-27 kids. So with eight kids, we can give them much more undivided attention. Same thing with our virtual learners.”
King said all the children were given Chromebooks. However, safety is his top priority at the academies. There’s been a few positive COVID cases at other schools but they were dealt with immediately, and the people involved quarantined.
“I want teachers to feel fulfilled but ultimately just to do what we can for all of our kids, whether they’re virtual, remote, hybrid, or here,” he said.
Ms. Allen agreed.
She’s been answering students questions about the uncertainty of the year. However, she's reminding them that their education was key no matter what happens.
“My hope this year is to grow our scholars and make sure that they are having fun and that they know that sometimes in life things will happen,” Ms. Allen said. “But you got to roll with the punches and in the end it’ll be a great outcome.”