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West Virginia University

WVU education experts discuss complexities of reopening public schools during COVID-19 pandemic

15-Jun-2020 4:35 PM EDT, by West Virginia University

Stephanie Lorenze and Melissa Sherfinski, faculty members in the West Virginia University College of Education and Human Services, discuss some of the complexities of planning for—and carrying out—in-person instruction in public schools during a pandemic, including non-traditional schedules, airflow and mindfulness activities. Whatever the officials decide, teachers, custodians and other school employees will have to comply with measures that keep COVID-19 from spreading among students. And that’s no simple task.


Quotes on planning for the fall:

“With the added complexities of COVID-19, schools are currently developing a variety of scenarios for their school communities as they look to August 2020. On the school side, planning might include physical aspects, such as additional personnel to monitor and support social distancing, and hygiene in transportation, cleaning, scheduling, meal preparation and other routines. Schools must also integrate these new routines and procedures with aspects that promote student learning, including balancing classes and class sizes, and hiring and training new teachers when needed, all while expanding uses of instructional technologies.” – Stephanie Lorenze, Service Associate Professor and Coordinator for Teacher Education, WVU College of Education and Human Services

 “One of the most important things that schools do at the beginning of the school year is growing and renewing their sense of community, not only within the school, but across classrooms and individuals. As the variables become more complicated, building a sense of community will become an even more important goal and requires flexibility.” – Melissa Sherfinski, Associate Professor of Early Childhood and Elementary Education, WVU College of Education and Human Services

Quote on measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19:

“Schools will institute measures to help make everyone safe, yet these will vary by the ages of the children in developmentally-appropriate ways and will vary slightly by county and school as local factors are taken into account. Social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing, personal protective equipment, attention to air flow, screenings, time in classrooms versus other school spaces and even modes of instructional delivery will likely look different than they did before spring of 2020. However, schools will work to provide safe environments while also creating the best learning environments possible. This may include hybrid models of attendance, blending live and virtual days. It may also include keeping students in home cohort groups and not mingling with other classes or grades. For example, students may have lunch in the classroom and not collectively in the cafeteria.” – Stephanie Lorenze, Service Associate Professor and Coordinator for Teacher Education, WVU College of Education and Human Services 

Quotes on promoting physical activity while maintaining social distance:

“Mindfulness activities, frequent brain breaks and dance, creative movement and theater integration are important to balance the physical, emotional and social aspects of learning with the cognitive.” – Stephanie Lorenze, Service Associate Professor and Coordinator for Teacher Education, WVU College of Education and Human Services

“Teachers already have experience in balancing children’s need to move. Indeed, each winter—when it is too cold for outdoor recess—teachers have active-movement activities up their sleeves. There are many safe options that teachers can use, including games that students can do standing next to their seats, like Simon Says. They can also do calisthenics in place, and students enjoy taking turns leading these.

 “Yoga can be a great option for children. I know of a class in which the children created their own yoga poses inspired by works of art and went on to collectively write and publish a book about their poses to share with other children. There are also videos like GoNoodle that project interactive songs and dances that children enjoy, yet these should not be overdone.

“These are only a few examples. Creative teachers will find and invent many more. It is also likely that physical-education and other professionals will rotate into classrooms—instead of in their larger learning spaces, like the gymnasium—to support this transition and meet this need.” – Melissa Sherfinski, Associate Professor of Early Childhood and Elementary Education, WVU College of Education and Human Services

Quotes on the benefits of in-person instruction:

“Our sense is that, in general, children enjoy being with their teachers and friends in a physical classroom community that allows for spontaneous interactions with others, even when they are socially distanced. There are more opportunities in physical classrooms for grouping up, for discussing with peers and for engaging with hands-on materials that do not need to be acquired and organized by parents. For young children who are particularly active learners and just beginning to write and type, online instruction can be especially constraining.

“In a physical classroom, there are more opportunities for private encouragement and verbal feedback in dynamic group settings that flow from large group to small group to individual, depending on the activity, and can be difficult to accomplish online. High-quality digital activities can be a helpful learning supplement, but there is a difference between human and machine feedback from an experiential perspective. Of course, the concern of consistent and available access to virtual instruction in the home impacts this as well.” – Melissa Sherfinski, Associate Professor of Early Childhood and Elementary Education, WVU College of Education and Human Services

Quote on differences in online access among families:

“Internet access is a crucial issue regarding learning opportunities and achievement gaps. Some possibilities might include differentiating access to physical classroom spaces and teaching, providing hybrid instructional models in which some students are online while others are face-to-face, bringing internet access to remote areas—for example, via equipped busses—using correspondence-school-like curriculum alternatives delivered through post or bringing instruction directly to students in community spaces close to home. Ideally, the strategies used will maintain community, health, safety and productive learning for all students.” – Melissa Sherfinski, Associate Professor of Early Childhood and Elementary Education, WVU College of Education and Human Services 

Quotes on homeschooling:

“Broad access to education and supporting each individual student’s continuous progress as a learner are both crucial aspects of public education. There is a worry with homeschooling that it will pull families that tend to contribute to schools in school-recognized ways—like volunteering, donating and making sure their children do their homework—away from the public schools, and schools will lose valuable human and monetary resources.

“There also is a worry that schools will lose students who are good role models and strong academically. If schools’ student numbers or test scores decline, that might affect some forms of support the schools receive and ultimately may hurt public education. With social-distancing requirements, parents’ volunteering at school may be less possible in the coming year. However, it is also important to consider that homeschooled children miss many opportunities to engage with diverse children and families from the local community at school. 

“I don’t believe there will be a massive influx of homeschooling, especially for the long term, because of the costs, the resources involved and the intensive labor it tends to place on mothers, who also may be trying to balance their own paid work and household labor with homeschooling. Before COVID-19, only 3 to 4 percent of the population homeschooled. Especially for mothers, homeschooling was very often a full-time job. Laws, which vary greatly by state, designate the criteria families must follow—if any—to be allowed to home-school and stipulate what is required of parents, such as education levels, evaluation requirements for the children, curriculum requirements and reporting requirements. Families considering homeschooling should of course research and weigh their options carefully.” – Melissa Sherfinski, Associate Professor of Early Childhood and Elementary Education, WVU College of Education and Human Services

West Virginia University experts can provide commentary on, insights into and opinions on various news topics. Search for an expert by name, title, area of expertise or college/school/department in the Experts Database at WVU Today.




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