“A Normal Day”: An inside look at a public school classroom during a pandemic

TIVERTON, R.I. (WLNE) – Public schools in Rhode Island have been back in session for a few weeks, and you might be wondering what a typical school day looks like for students in 2020.

ABC6 got an inside look at what a “normal” day is for fifth graders at Tiverton Middle School amid a pandemic.

Designated entrances by grade, one-way hallways, and constant mask-wearing are just some of the ways public schools are different this year.

“One of the biggest challenges for us is just making sure that we’re connecting with the students on the Google meet with us, and the students in front of us,” said Shelly Nogueira, a fifth grade English Language Arts, Social Studies and SOAR teacher at Tiverton Middle.

Ms. Nogueira starts her day in her own classroom but then bounces around the building to different classrooms to teach her other students, with all of her items on a cart. Usually, students would come to her room, but the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) guidelines require students to remain in stable pods.

“Fifth grade we’re all in and so those students stay in the classroom for the entire day with the exception of when they go to lunch, but even at lunch they eat in their stable groups in the lunchroom,” said Susan Craven, principal at Tiverton Middle School.

Craven said around 20% of students in each grade chose to stay home and do distance learning. But, she says, that percentage is going down each week.

“We do have a lot of families communicating to us that they preferred for their students to be in school, that they feel like we’re doing everything possible to keep the children safe.”

For Ms. Nogueira, she has a mix of students in the classroom and at home. She wears Bluetooth speakers to communicate with them while being able to interact with her in-person students.

“I can detach from my seat and then kind of go out and tell the kids on Google Meet that they have access to me, they just need to let me know that they need me so I can walk around at least somewhat.”

There are no more paper handouts and no more group activities in the classroom. Students work solely with their Chromebooks.

But there aren’t just changes in the classroom. Lunchtime looks different too.

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Students walk to lunch with their stable pods and go through the meal line socially distanced. The lunch tables have plexiglass dividing the children from each other, but they are able to share tables.

After lunch, students have the choice to go outside, but they must remain socially distanced with their masks on. School leaders in Tiverton spray painted lanes on the grass for students to run or walk in a line with friends around the field.

There are also designated areas where children can stop and take their masks off for a mask break.

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Inside the school, there are squares scattered in the hallways where students can step into the square and remove their mask to speak with friends or take a breathing break.

“They know to try to give each other some distance,” said Ms. Nogueira. “They know that if their table, their desk gets too close to somebody else’s they need to back up. They’ve been really good at that.”

In Ms. Nogueira’s 20 years of teaching, she said this compares to her first year.

“The reason I say that is because it’s a lot of work. So, everything that we’re doing I find that we’re staying late, coming in early, working on weekends because, again, we’re actually like re-inventing the wheel. So, in a way, we’re doing something that’s unprecedented. We never had anything like this before.”

While a typical school day is anything but typical in a pandemic, they’re getting through it, with smiles under their masks.

“Definitely it’s not a typical day. When I look at it, that’s what makes me appreciate the fact that the kids have been so great. I mean, I’ve even had parents who’ve reached out and just said lovely things so that’s really inspiring. It’s really nice to know that kids are actually enjoying being back so even though it’s not typical, it’s our day, so we make the best of it.”

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Categories: Coronavirus, News, Our Schools, Regional News, Rhode Island