“We’ve had no problems with kids in masks, not at all,” says Ahtanum principal Richard Pryor. His response came as we asked how the students were handling the most distinctive change for students returning at this time. “The students are great. They are following the rules and most seem to almost forget they have them on. We sometimes need to remind parents during pick up and drop off more than we do students throughout the day.”
Things do look a little different in the school. An aide sits at the front of the school as visitors enter and completes a verbal screening to ensure they have no COVID-19 symptoms and haven’t been in close contact with anyone who has tested positive. The visit is documented with their response as required by the Yakima Health District. Inside the schools, there are 6' markings to ensure social and physical distance near the restrooms and doorways. Desks have been situated with 6” of space between students—identified by tape or shapes on the floor to make sure students keep their desks in place. Pryor says the planning for physical distancing in the classrooms began last May and most of the teachers spent the summer arranging their rooms to better accommodate the students.
“We started with getting the desks in place. We cleared out the rooms and set up the desks to allow for the recommended spacing and then started bringing furniture back in as possible. In some cases, we use the hallway as an extension of the class space for cubbies or bookshelves. Other furniture will be kept in storage until we can return to normal,” says Pryor.
Another apparent change is the focus on cleanliness. Hand sanitizing stations are available throughout the buildings as well as several bottles of hand sanitizer within each classroom. When entering or exiting the classroom, students are encouraged to wash their hands or sanitize. Every hour the custodial staff enters the classrooms to wipe down doorknobs, faucets, and other high-touch areas. Pryor says four additional classified staff members were hired specifically to manage the COVID-19 health and safety requirements.
All-in-all, Pryor says the first week back has gone smoothly. He reminds parents to fill out the online attestation by 8:30am so students don’t need to isolate in the office until they respond. He says for the most part even this has been working effectively. Also, he reminds parents to show up for drop off and pick up in a timely manner. Now that the school has a drive-through process, he wants the traffic to have minimal impact on the adjacent neighbors. He says they’ve gotten the process down to about 10 minutes from when students line up to when the last one is picked up.
Pryor says he’s now getting ready for the 3rd and 4th-grade classes to return on November 2. With one more week working out the process with the younger grades, he feels that his staff will be more than ready to welcome all students back.
“We have an amazing staff, teachers, and families,” says Pryor. “They are supportive and committed. We’ve all had to pull together to respond to a lot of unknowns over these past months and I think we’re doing great!”