Students, administrators reflect on school life in this time of a pandemic

Students, administrators reflect on school life in this time of a pandemic

Palm Beach Daily News
October 12, 2020

For most students, returning to school provides a mixture of emotions. Most are a bit sad their summer has passed, but are pleased to be able see old friends and make new ones as they learn new things and grow.

In the age of COVID, however, many of the more pleasant aspects of returning to school are replaced by uncertainty, discomfort and sometimes even fear.

Things are “devastating, to say the least,” said Rosarian Academy eighth-grader and Student Council President Georgina Keogh. “It feels different, but I am grateful to have the opportunity to be back in the classroom.”

Keogh, who has attended Rosarian since pre-kindergarten, says “I miss having lunch with my entire grade in the cafeteria. I do, however, think that the time we have spent within the smaller classroom settings or my advisory cohort has allowed for more meaningful connections and communication to occur.”

Palm Beach schools and those that serve the island’s students have come up with new and innovative ways to challenge students and stimulate their intellectual curiosity, all in an enhanced safety-conscious environment.

Interscholastic sports, cafeteria lunches and after-school programs are out; face masks, smaller classes, temperature checks and hand sanitizers are in.

“Wearing masks for such an extended period of time can be difficult,” Keogh said. “Especially when trying to chat with a friend.”

Further, she said, the social part of going to school has effectively been curtailed as well.

The changes made at area schools have come thanks to out-of-the box thinking by teachers, administrators, families and the students themselves.

“I think our students are so grateful to be in school, to be with their friends,” said Denise Spirou, the Greene School’s head of school. “This is a time we’re teaching our kids to be resilient, to bounce back.”

Making learning a joyful experience as well as a challenge helps, too.

“You have to have a great time, and we do.” Spirou said. “Our teachers have been amazing.”

Linda Trethewey, Rosarian’s head of school, agrees. Her teachers also have responded creatively to the challenge, she says.

When the faculty realized that singing or raised voices caused greater spread of aerosolized droplets, the school’s choir, musical performance and drama programs got scratched. In their place, faculty decided to try something new and came up with ukulele classes, which cause no enhanced spread of droplets and provides a friendly introduction to musical performance for young learners, and a challenge to boot.

“Although we have adjusted routines and have more health protocols in place than we ever imagined, our faculty and staff are doing an incredible job thinking outside the box,” Trethewey said.

It’s not just the students who are struggling to thrive during the pandemic. At Palm Beach Day Academy, parents will get the chance to increase skills and strategies for working with their children in a coronavirus environment from clinical social worker Hayley Schapiro in a 9 a.m. Zoom presentation on Oct. 21 that’s open to the community.

Today’s school days are not without additional stresses, but they’re well worth addressing, said Spirou. “We’re doing what we’re doing just to make sure the kids are taking it safe and healthy.”

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