COVID-19 has put America’s classrooms in the fight of their lives. All across the country, schools are shut down and teachers are struggling to adapt to an online classroom. Parents are desperately trying to balance their work with the sudden need to homeschool their children. It is a difficult burden to bear. The costs of having our children out of school are incredibly high.
School district leaders have responded in different ways as they try to follow guidelines sent down from the Center for Disease Control (CDC.) Unfortunately, these guidelines are often out of sync with teachers and parents. “They want me to have Kindergartners wear masks, stay six-feet away from each other and to share no toys, books or games,” says Jessica Vigil, a kindergarten teacher in Douglas County, CO, “not only is this a virtual impossibility with this age group, it defeats everything we are trying to teach these kids. Kindergarten is supposed to be about learning to interact and share with others.”
In this turmoil is the seed of opportunity for leaders in the building industry. We can serve our communities and the world at large by rethinking classroom designs. We need to ensure students are both getting the education they need and remaining safe. How can this be accomplished? Here are a few ideas:
1. Choose a classroom design that supports interaction between students while maintaining distancing protocols. Schools will limit the number of children in a classroom to about 10 and a student’s time will be divided between online learning and the classroom. Thus, we must maximize interaction between students when they have an opportunity to come together. Layouts that space students apart safely but face them toward each other can help.
2. Find ways to win back square footage. Many teachers will find their classrooms cramped. As books, toys, and games can no longer be shared, it may be best to eliminate them entirely so that perimeter space can be claimed for distancing purposes. Teacher workspaces may also need to be shrunk, much to the chagrin of the teachers. Finding creative ways to maximize the remaining space will be of enormous benefit in the COVID-19 classroom design.
3. Deploy sneeze guards where face-to-face interaction is needed. Students will need to be close to receive one-on-one feedback from their teacher and to collaborate with each other. The smart use of sneeze guards can allow a sense of normalcy while safety is maintained.
4. Eliminate unnecessary elements that cause children to congregate. The CDC has encouraged schools to get rid of learning aids, toys, books, and games that would cause students to gather in a particular area. New tools like individual shelves or containers and organizers on wheels could be a great way to put space between kids.
This is a trying time for teachers, parents, and students, but we can play a critical role in keeping our communities safe. Our children are our most precious resource, and our industry has an important responsibility to bring its expertise to bear for their safety and well-being.