MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Today is Thursday, August 27th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Megan Basham.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: back to school.
What is it like for in-person classes to start up again in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic? Today, WORLD Radio intern Vivian Jones teaches us what it took for one school in Tennessee to reopen safely.
AUDIO: [Kids playing on the playground]
VIVIAN JONES, CORRESPONDENT: Franklin Classical School meets in a brick church building—a few blocks away from the old town square in Franklin, Tennessee. It’s the first week of school, and kids are on the playground together for the first time since school closed in March.
MAHAND: We started classes this past Tuesday.
Melinda Mahand is academic dean at Franklin Classical School, and also teaches literature, English, and Bible.
MAHAND: Seeing the students again has been such a joy. This has been like a giant reunion. We’re having to be careful about not hugging and some of the things that we usually do. We’re having to keep our distance and most students are wearing a mask. But just being together, being able to talk has been wonderful.
It’s been a long road to reopening. The school learned a lot from the successes and challenges at the end of last school year.
Four weeks ago, Mahand and other administrators were working to prepare the building according to federal guidelines so that students could return.
MAHAND: Excuse the way the building looks, we are cleaning and throwing away and redoing every room.
In March, the class of 2020 had just landed in Detroit from a senior trip to London when the COVID-19 shutdown began.
MAHAND: We were sitting in the waiting area to catch our connection back to Nashville when President Trump came on the screen and announced that overseas flights would no longer be allowed into the United States. We felt like we barely made it back into the U.S.
And that’s when everything changed at Franklin Classical School.
MAHAND: The next morning, I woke up and realized I needed to move the entire school—200 students kindergarten through 12th grade—to distance learning, because we in fact, were not coming back on campus.
Teachers quickly divided up areas of the Middle Tennessee region, hand delivering materials to students, and moving to an online learning system.
MAHAND: We were all rather exhausted by the end of fourth quarter, as were the families, because this was new to all of us. But it was a very good learning period to prepare us for what we can do better. This new school year, hopefully, we’ll be able to reduce some of the stress for families should we have to go to distance learning again.
When the spring semester ended, administrators started preparing to resume classes in person this fall. Complying with health recommendations required an extraordinary level of planning.
Administrators installed new touchless hand dryers, hand sanitizers, soap dispensers, and water fountains, and purchased playground equipment for each grade to be sanitized daily. Teachers reoriented classrooms and lecture halls to maintain social distancing.
MAHAND: So the interesting thing for this summer is I’m doing everything I would always do, plus getting ready for this new approach to sanitizing the school and keeping our children safe.
The school purchased laptop computers for each student to enable virtual learning in case a student becomes ill, or schools are required to close again due to the pandemic.
MAHAND: Another issue was trying to determine how to best care for our children while still protecting our commitment to parental authority in their children’s lives. So what are we going to do about masks for instance, we’re primarily leaving that up to the parents option to decide whether their child will wear a mask. If there’s a government mandate regarding masks, we will obey that mandate…
Parents will be asked to check their child’s temperature each morning. Arrival and departure times are staggered, and students will be kept mostly separate within their own classes.
On top of all of this, Mahand trained new teachers, interviewed new families, and advised students on which classes to take this year. And, of course, she prepared to teach her own classes.
MAHAND: I like to teach where I’m sitting right now at this place at my table, because I’m close… We won’t be able to do that this year, so one of my challenges is figuring out how I’m going to teach and still reach hearts standing on that little platform at the dry erase board with them distanced all over the room. But in the scope of things that’s minor and Lord willing, it’s temporary.
AUDIO: [Sound of geometry class]
Today, the students are back in the lecture hall learning Geometry, almost like any other year.
MAHAND: Lord willing, it will continue that way, but we’ve been very surprised at how smoothly it’s gone. It’s been a lot of hard work getting ready, but it has really paid off.
A handful of the students were more comfortable learning from home, and started the school year virtually.
MAHAND: I think our biggest challenge has been getting every teacher up and running somewhat proficiently on our learning management system, which is Google classrooms now. They’ve all worked hard.
Mahand says through all of the planning and preparing, administrators, teachers, and the school’s seniors showed leadership in dealing with an unprecedented challenge.
MAHAND: Leadership occurs when you have to face a challenge or a hurdle or a mountain that you didn’t anticipate and that you’ve never had to face before, and even in the face of disappointment or maybe even anger, you stand up and you do what you’ve been taught to do, which is care for others lead well approach the future with hope and confidence.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Vivian Jones in Franklin, Tennessee.