While schools are about to open and face a new world of challenges, there are some educational institutions that have already had to work out holding classes during the pandemic. These include the Torah Institute, Darchei Noam Montessori and Cheder Chabad, which held summer classes. Here’s what worked for them.
Darchei Noam Montessori held classes in the summer until July. They had two groups of students at separate times, socially distanced. On the floors, the school put tape to mark the distance students should keep. The rabbis also put a plastic shield around desks. Students wore masks into the building, which they could only take off in class, and there was no hot lunch.
“It worked, we didn’t have any sick [children], and it was safe,” said Mechemya Jakobovits, who works in administration.
The Learning Ladder, a Jewish preschool in Pikesville, has also had success via thorough and constant disinfecting. The preschool has been open for a month and a half so far, with no COVID-19 cases.
“The kids are so happy,” Director Aileen Friedman said. “Things are going great. Parents are telling me their kids are eating better and sleeping better.”
The Learning Ladder is maintaining this healthy atmosphere by checking temperatures when kids arrive, assigning drop-off times, keeping the kids in socially distanced pods, restricting unsanitary materials and, most of all, cleaning frequently. When children play with a toy, it must be disinfected before another touches it. When a class uses the playground, it must be cleaned before another class can use it. When a student goes to the bathroom, it must be sanitized before it can be used again. Friedman also tries to get the kids outside as much as possible and has kids use exit doors to lessen hallway interactions.
So far, things have been going so well that she’s even seen restrictions ease up slightly. “It’s been going really well. When we first opened all you needed was one symptom [to have to stay home] but now you need two. Children do get runny noses and allergies,” she said.
Cheder Chabad’s boys’ school, which continued through July, had a similar experience of realizing it’s not as hard as they imagined.
“Going in, there was a lot of preparation. But once we started a routine, turns out, it’s a lot easier than we thought,” Executive Director Rabbi Avrohom Wolowik said. They haven’t had any outbreaks. “What I see is, institutions who take this seriously are not having major issues. If they have a case, it won’t spread if they aren’t being lax.” Most importantly he believes tracking prevents contagions.
The school prepared by hiring more maintenance personnel to constantly sanitize the building, bringing hand sanitizers to every room and separating students into groups.
He’s found one challenge is making children keep their masks on in the classroom, but the teachers are the ones facing most of the stumbling blocks. The teachers will be more detached from the children because of distancing and masks. Plus, the preschool teachers are not able to hold children and be as close to kids. Also, though the school is buying plastic face shields for teachers, they will not be able to see the child’s facial expressions.
It’s all a matter of adjustments.
“Something which changes the culture of our school is the parents used to bring kids to the teachers, and it gave a homey feeling, but we had to change that so there’s less parent interaction,” Wolowick said. “I do think there will be less of a comfort between the parents and teachers, and familiarity with the classroom. Hopefully it will only be short term.”
Overall, Wolowik is optimistic. He noted that the children are resilient.
“We just saw them coming back together and their faces light up,” he said. “My children at home were regressing socially, and my feeling is we might have to deal with these results for years to come. Especially for the little ones, there are a lot of milestones they’re missing. But my feeling is kids are much more resilient than we give them credit for.”