Back to School in a COVID World: Part 2

Photo by Janko Ferlic from Pexels

If you're a school-based SLP (and I'm assuming if you're reading this, you are) who is preparing for the return to school, you may be anxious and quite nervous. I get it. The unknown of what the school year will look like; the changes you're going to have to make before and maybe even from week to week are going to make your life a little hectic, for sure. Quite honestly, I think the school systems are doing the best they can in trying to figure out the best way to have students educated while keeping everyone safe. First, let me say this: COVID is a real thing. It's a bad thing. You're probably a little worried about getting sick. It's like a co-worker said to me, "It's not a matter of if, but when." Just as I stated in my previous post, I realize everyone has different immune systems. Someone you've been in a room with may test positive yet you have no symptoms and test negative.

Hybrid: It's a new concept

Just 1 week after I wrote the last post, my school system has altered the "back to school schedule". We are now on a "hybrid" schedule, meaning that those who opted for in-school learning are on another staggered schedule: half of the alphabet comes one day and they rotate days with the other half of the alphabet. On the days they aren't at school, they are expected to be in "virtual class" with their teacher. We had a professional development day a few days ago, and the teachers have come up with some creative ways to teach their students virtually. 

But that's the classroom teacher. What am I, as a school SLP, doing? I serve 2 schools (+ a high school), which makes my schedule a little more challenging. Normally I'm at each school every other day, being at my home school 3 days/week. If I stick to that schedule, I would be seeing my students every other week. Even though my director said she didn't expect us to change our schedules, I opted to change mine. I now go to each school 2 days in a row, still being at my home school on Friday. That way I see each of my students once each week. Just to keep things a little simpler, once we go back to our normal schedule (with students being at school every day) I plan on keeping my schedule as is for the year. I think it will be a nice little experiment to see if my students progress more having speech 2 days in a row versus every other day. Or will it slow progression? Time will tell.

In my school system, we are mirroring what the gen. ed. teachers are doing: 50% face-to-face, 50% "virtual". That doesn't mean that we're providing teleservices. It means giving the students home practice, assigning BOOM Cards, or using Screencastify or some other platform to read books or explain what they are to be doing. The elementary schools have moved away from Class Dojo and Classtag to Seesaw, meaning I have yet another platform to learn. Luckily, they are all very similar so it hasn't been too challenging. My students are used to having homework every week so it shouldn't be very much of a change for them.

The fact is: we are essential workers. Just like the nurses, doctors, basically all medical personnel, we are expected to be at work. Even if we've been exposed. Because, really...think about it: Unless you've stayed in your house since March, chances are you've been exposed at some point. 

10 Key Takeaways After Being in School

Here are some takeaways I've learned in the past few weeks:

1. WEAR YOUR MASK. Unless you're in your classroom by yourself, have your mask on. You don't know who other people have been around, or who their families have been around. At this moment, the CDC's guidance for contact tracing is being within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes.

Mask selfie

2. Be flexible. Things change from minute to minute. As I stated above, I think the school systems are doing the best they can with the information they have at that minute. Unfortunately, we can't predict the future. We don't know if cases will climb (which they probably will once school opens) and if the school will need to change its initial plans. Just be open to whatever comes your way and take it one day at a time. 

3. Be a team player. Also, be prepared for added duties. In the past, my principals have been fantastic with not assigning bus duty to me. But, with students' temperatures having to be checked before they get out of their car or before they come into the building, there aren't enough teachers to go around. Be a team player...just get up a little bit earlier and help out.

4. Don't worry about "what if". That's a sure way to increase anxiety! We are all learning about taking things as they come and being ready to change plans at the drop of a hat. It is what it is. 

5. Get into an after-school routine. Plan for time when you get home to decompress...take a walk, ride a bike, or just sit outside with a beverage. Whatever will make you relax and transition from home to school, build it into your schedule. Personally, I take my dog for a walk as soon as I get home. It helps me refocus on home and leave school behind. (Plus, my husband is still working in his home office when I get home, so I can give him a little more quiet time to work.) Whatever you left at school is going to be there the next day. Leave school work behind (unless it's crunch time with an IEP and you have to have it written) and be present to your family, your pet, your roommate, whoever you live with. 

Gurl Dogg that time we got caught in a rainstorm
Gurl Dogg that time we got caught in a rainstorm

6. Don't panic when someone in your building tests positive. It's going to happen. It's inevitable. You will be notified that someone has tested positive, but you will not be told who that person is. Just don't panic. Again, it is what it is. Wear your mask (see #1) and wash your hands many, many times during the day. Many of us are in small communities, so of course, word is going to get out who it is. It's not leprosy. Do we run around talking about staff who have the flu? (I'm not downplaying COVID at all. The flu is just the most comparable thing I can think of.) Just be there for moral support for that person and the family. 

7. Know that the students fall quickly into their new routine. I have been amazed at how quickly students at my schools have fallen into their new routine. When I go to the car to greet a child to take his temperature, he waits and will often automatically pull his bangs up so I can get a good reading. Many get out of the car with their masks already on. In the hallway, most of the students are wearing their masks correctly. There are a few whose masks are under their noses, but for the most part, the kids are keeping distance and are wearing masks. It has been amazing to see the kids respond! It's like they've been doing it their whole school life.  IF you need a social story for wearing a mask, you can find one here.

School Hug Line

8. Reassure the students. When I walked a second grader to the classroom on his first day, he confided in me that he was nervous. I assured him that it was going to be okay, and it was alright for him to feel a little nervous. We talked about how weird it is that everyone has on masks but that we would grow used to it very soon. I checked on him a little later in the day and his teacher said he was doing fabulously. Kids are a lot more resilient than we give them credit for!

9. Know the facts. I don't know about you, but I am tired of hearing people talking about what is and isn't going on. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and people are spreading it like wildfire. Go directly to the CDC and look at the facts. Here is the data from the week ending 08/01/2020 regarding ages and hospitalizations: (click the picture for a larger view)

I chose those ages because that is the population most of us are working with, as well as the ages most of us fall in. At first glance, it looks like the hospitalizations greatly increase within the typical age range of teachers. But look just below the graph to put the numbers in perspective. Again, I have to emphasize that I am not downplaying COVID. I am urging everyone to think for themselves and do the research themselves. And absolutely follow the guidelines set by the CDC and your school system.

10. Take care of yourself. With my school schedule, I'm getting up quite a bit earlier. I don't think I've ever set my alarm as early as I am this year. It's important to get plenty of sleep, drink plenty of water, eat right, exercise, and vitamins couldn't hurt, either. Using antimicrobial sprays and better-for-you hand sanitizer are also good ideas. 

Rainwater Farm Hand Sanitizer and Antimicrobial Spray

If you are going back to school and will have to see the students face to face, I'm urging you to not be afraid or anxious. My advice would be to have a healthy fear of COVID, but don't let it paralyze you. I can't stress enough that everyone needs to wear a mask and wash hands. I also feel compelled to reiterate that I am in no way downplaying this pandemic. It is real and it can be serious, but I truly believe that with the proper precautions we will be doing everything we can to keep ourselves (and our students) healthy. 

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