The effort to bring students back to school while trying to protect them from COVID-19 has so far proven to be quite the experiment.
While the public schools are gearing up to reopen, many private and parochial schools have already taken the plunge. St. Brendan’s High School, for example, home to 1,200 students, is doing its best to recreate a normal school experience.
“We are very excited having the students here, you know that a school without students is like a hospital without patients,” said Dr. Jose Rodelgo-Bueno, the principal of the Catholic school in Westchester.
Right next door, students have returned to the all-boys Christopher Columbus High School, which is also Catholic but is not one of the Archdiocese of Miami’s schools.
“We wanted to see the guys back on campus and we’re delighted to see ‘em and as the guys are coming back to campus, they’re happy to be here as well,” said Thomas Kruczek, president of Columbus High.
Each school is following familiar coronavirus prevention protocols, with enhanced sanitation measures, hand sanitizer everywhere, and social distancing measures in effect.
Columbus installed virus-killing UV light filters in its air conditioning units, while St. Brendan’s has plexiglass shields on the cafeteria tables to separate kids and thermal scanners to provide quick health checks.
“We are protecting the school community and we are raising awareness so that students, they really want to protect themselves and protect their classmates,” Rodelgo-Bueno said.
“I mean you name it, we did it during the summer, lots of hand sanitizing stations, lots of PPE, we’ve brought in a contact tracing company as well,” Kruczek said.
Classrooms in each school look nearly empty because on any given day, less than half the student body is on campus. The students are on alternating schedules, coming to school one day and staying home the next.
At St. Brendan’s High School, about 30% of the students have opted to learn from home. About 15% of Columbus High’s 1,700 students are staying home for distance learning only.
The blended learning model has left plenty of room to spread kids out on campus. “It feels a lot more normal than staying home,” said Sergio Moreno, a senior at Columbus.
His classmate agrees. “I just thought being back and having that face to face interaction and interpersonal relationships really helps the learning experience,” said Rodrigo Velazco, another senior at Columbus.
“It definitely feels more normal than being at home, seeing your teachers and walk through the halls,” said Sophia Linales, a senior at St. Brendan’s.
“It’s much easier to learn when you’re in person and the teacher can demonstrate whatever they’re trying to teach,” St. Brendan’s senior David Whittingham said.
The whole strategy is based on science, and at these schools, you could say they’re taking a leap of faith to make the COVID prevention effort work.