By the time the first day of school rolls around in Englewood on Aug. 27, life will look different inside Rebecca Dynda’s music classroom at Clayton Elementary School.
Masks will be worn by students spaced out six feet apart in the classroom. Rather than sitting on the floor like they typically do, students are to be sitting on chairs. The school’s custodian will disinfect the room in between classes. Singing is no long a part of music class. And rather than playing wind instruments such as recorders, which are popular for children in elementary school, the instruments are being shelved as a precaution against COVID-19.
“We sing all the time. That will be the hardest adjustment,” said Dynda. “Hopefully we can incorporate rhythms and transfer that to mallet instruments and drums. But the lack of singing will be the biggest thing for me.”
While the sounds of children singing and recorders have been silenced in Englewood Schools, it’s an example of precautions the district is taking in protecting its staff and students from COVID-19 as 1,568 students return for in-person learning on Aug. 27.
And for the teachers interviewed for this story, excitement rather than fear was the word they used as they returned to in-person teaching for the first time since March.
“I know that the kids need us, and we need them. I feel pretty good about (teaching in-person),” said Dynda. “I know that if we stick to our safety precautions, I know things can be pretty successful.”
Englewood Schools’ plan for returning to in-person learning was approved by the Englewood School Board on July 14. It requires students and staff members to have daily wellness checks such as temperature checks and wellness questions.
Students will be assigned to groups to lessen exposure and to help with tracing efforts in potential COVID-19 cases while passing periods will be limited by teachers moving to students. Playground equipment will be limited and sanitized frequently. And Englewood teachers will have access to free COVID-19 testing.
Ashley Glenn, a fourth-grade teacher at Charles Hay World School, said it feels good to be back in her classroom, and talking about children coming back brings a big smile to her face. She said children interacting with each other and other teachers is a big part of being a kid and coming to school.
“I don’t really have any concerns. I feel pretty safe, and I think going into the year, it is going to be important talking to kids, expressing concerns to keep masks on, making sure to wash hands and to stay in our six-foot bubble,” said Glenn.
“You teach routines and expectations, and I think COVID-19 routines and expectations will be taught on the first day and stressed throughout the year, especially since everything is changing too much,” Glenn said.
Amy Pickering is the performing arts educator at the Englewood Campus — home to both Englewood Middle School and Englewood High School. She also works as a fitness instructor and has taught in some capacity for almost the whole summer. Pickering noted that her only concern about teaching theater is wearing a mask because it will be difficult for her students to see her face and communicate with expression.
Theater productions will be limited, and Pickering said she’ll have to figure out ways to give her students a chance to perform. In May, Pickering’s students performed “Ten Ways to Survive Life in Quarantine” on Zoom and donated money from the show to a local food bank.
“I think for parents and families who have chosen in person learning and might be nervous — they should know we have taken every precaution that we can think of,” said Pickering.