COVID-19 has turned the entire world upside down. People see masks everywhere they go, sanitize until their hands get dry, and society doesn’t shake hands anymore. The world has never experienced a situation like this with the technology that is around today. This thought can be scary, but it sparks innovation, adaptation, and even community. Administrators, teachers, and even students here at GHS have done an excellent job with changing and adapting during this pandemic.
As soon as Governor Whitmer closed down schools during the 2019-2020 school year, GHS administrators got to work; in reality, they haven’t stopped working since. Mr. Kennedy says that all decisions and protocols have been a “team-effort” between Mr. Lancto, Mr. Nguyen, Mrs. Ernst, and himself. He further explains that, “We have been meeting just about every day since school got out [in March of this year]…to brainstorm ideas, to try to poke holes in different plans we came up with.” These said ideas and plans include the past “summer plan” of trying to finish the 2020 school year online, coming back to school this 2020-2021 school year, protocols within the classroom and hallways and cafeteria, and even blending online learners into classrooms with in-person students.
About eighty-percent of Grandville parents wanted their child to return back to school in person, and administrators worked with CDC guidelines and Governor Whitmer’s Return to School Roadmap to make it happen. These documents cover what must be avoided once schools open up, rules with recommendations, the phases that the state will go through, and how these phases may look inside a school’s atmosphere. According to Mr. Nguyen, the hardest CDC guideline to implement in our school is staying six feet apart. This has to be enforced throughout the whole school, when possible. Mr. Kennedy comments, “Thankfully, the document that the governor put out for school suggests that [students stay six feet apart] ‘when possible.’” In the cafeteria, this was hard to set up. Administrators then had to set up tables and chairs to no more than four or five students at certain tables, and the line to get food is spaced out to save six feet of distance between each student in line. This made space in the actual cafeteria extremely limited, so admin had to find more places to seat students for lunch. For example, they had to open the West Gym to students to eat lunch in (pictured on the right). Nguyen comments, “Every third hour, myself and the other administrators drop everything that we are doing to set tables up [in the gyms]…then at the end, during fifth hour, we tear it down.”
Another very obvious and important change that has been made in GHS is the new flow of “traffic” in the hallways. After conferencing with Mr. Nguyen, I found that this new set up has actually been formed to mimic the rules of the road. Much like driving on the roads in Michigan, there is a “Michigan Left Turn” (pictured on the left) underneath the main staircase; this was made to limit the amount of “backed up traffic” waiting to get into the bathroom or any of the other hallways. To keep students moving, and moving in the right direction, students simply have to walk around in the “U-turn” and cut across the hallway (between the locker and black rope) to keep with the flow. There are also certain staircases that students may only go either up or down, much like on-ramps that lead cars to a highway. They also incorporated a roundabout (pictured on the right) to keep students from bumping into one another when in need of a change in direction. Now, there is a method to this madness, believe it or not. Mr. Kennedy explains that it is to limit “face-to-face confrontation” in the hallways that would not be at a safely-considered distance from one another. The problem with being face to face with someone else is the science behind spreading germs. When people breathe, talk, sneeze, or cough, they exhaust respiratory water particles up to six feet away from the source, which then can be breathed in by someone else (Bai, 2020). With students both wearing a mask that shields these particles and to have students avoiding face-to-face confrontations with others, it makes walking in the hallways and not always being socially distanced a more comfortable thought.
Another aspect of comfort is having the option of students going online. Grandville has opened this option to students who do not feel comfortable with the idea of being exposed to everyone at school, and everything that those in-person learners have been exposed to. To have this implemented, online learners opt to join class via Google Classroom meets, which are blended into lessons and classes with in-person learners as well. However, this adaptation can be hard for both students and teachers. Students lose the whole “social” aspect of school that they formerly knew. Teachers lose their ability to interact with students facial expressions, to familiarize themselves with their students by their facial features, because masks cover most of our faces. Mr. Ungrey, who as of September 16, 2020, had his sociology class attendance as 12 in-person learners and 17 remote-learners. Ungrey explains, “Having conversations with [online learners] is maybe even a little bit easier because you can see their faces to check their understanding.” Ungrey also explained that these adaptations may have been difficult at first, but he made it clear as to what is expected in his classroom by enforcing desk cleaning and correct mask-wearing (over the nose!) from the get-go. From this point on, protocols and procedures become practice of a new routine. Mrs. Fischer said that it usually already takes about a week or so to get back into the “swing of things” once school starts back up in August, but adding new protocols and online learners made that process a little longer. Mrs. Fischer explains that, “Getting into week four, I finally feel that I’m getting the hang of it…but these difficulties are starting to be part of what I just have to do.” She then also goes on to explain that, although that the new guidelines and procedures are a bit of a nuisance, that they won’t be forever and all are out of appreciation.
Because of the blend of in-class and online-learners, having both groups at the same time means that teachers do not have to make big changes to their style of teaching (i.e. the way a teacher, personally, would explain a certain lesson or topic in class). Mr. Rigterink explains that the blend of students being both online and in-person at the same time, that the style of his teaching did not change. Rigterink says, “I make sure I incorporate the online students versus just talking to the face-to-face [students]…you know I try to make sure I bring the [online learners] into conversation.” Indicating that he still uses his same tactics in the learning process, the changes that teachers are making are checking attendance of those both in the classroom and online, having materials ready to go for class for both groups of learners (like documents posted on Google Classroom for remote learners and having handouts printed for in-person learners), checking the understanding of the students online by encouraging them to ask questions but also checking the work of students in-person; Rigterink comments, “My job has changed the most in how I actually prepare to teach in the classroom.” There is not one person who walks through the doors of Grandville High School that would not be affected by the modifications due to COVID-19. Modifications and changes can be hard to adapt to, but everything is out of appreciation and took a lot of time to come up with. The GHS school board could have chosen to go online (like other schools around GHS), but they chose to put in the work to make going back to school work for those who wanted to go back to school and those who want to go online. Administration, the school board, and teachers all do this work for students and parents to feel comfortable with whatever choice they make. These protocols, rules, and procedures are not forever, but changes needed to be made in order to keep us safe in today’s world. Remember to thank an administrator or teacher when coming across one: They put in the work to allow us to be here, in the classrooms, as safe as possible!