Capital pilots in-person summer school

Students participating in Capital’s Senator Summer Boost program at William Henry Middle School complete work while socially distancing. To limit the amount of teachers and students mixing, teachers can Zoom in for some lessons, like related arts. (Delaware State News/Brooke Schultz)

When Capital School District’s summer boost program began bringing children back to school Monday, it was putting guidance into practice.

“We’re revising every day, to be really honest,” said Paul Dunford, director of instruction for the district. “This was our first week face-to-face, so we had high school students that were face-to-face so for the first two days, they’re in a class, but the second two days they’re going to be home. So in typical high school style, they’re ready to go and they’ll do their work from home. The elementary kids were upset because they wanted to stay for the whole week because they like being back in school.”

For its summer programming, the school district opted to use a three-prong approach: at-home, hybrid and in-school models.

Through at-home learning, students are in groups of 10 to 15 children and work with a teacher in a format that resembles what they’ve experienced for the past few months. Students engage with the work through Zoom and online assignment platforms like Schoology. The district also made available Chromebooks.

Students complete school work at Booker T. Washinton Elementary School during the Capital Summer Boost Program. The program is putting many of the state’s guidances for reopening schools into action, concerning mask-wearing, social distancing and more. (Delaware State News/Brooke Schultz)

For hybrid participation, groups of 10 to 15 students would come to school for two days a week to meet face-to-face with a teacher. For the other two days, they would use remote learning practices.

The last model would have students in the building all four days. That program is geared toward students with disabilities.

Summer school guidance was released ahead of the state entering Phase 2 of recovery, but in light of the Delaware Department of Education releasing its returning to school recommendations, operating summer school that has face coverings, social distancing and transportation in mind has acted as a pilot to what a hybrid year could look like in the fall.

“It changes the lens we have to look at things,” Mr. Dunford said. “We have to look at it from the instructional side and we have to look at it from the health side and those two variables have to agree in order for it to work. It’s been a challenge. I think we’ve met it. But it’s been a challenge.”

Capital’s secondary students in the Summer Boost Program are attending William Henry Middle School. The school has students from Central Middle, the high school and William Henry. Booker T. Washington and East elementary schools also have cohorts of Senators.

Two entrances allow for students taking the bus to flow into the school one way and drop offs through another. The students have their temperatures checked by a paraprofessional when they board the bus. Students who are dropped off by parents have their temperatures checked upon entry to the building. Temperatures are forwarded off to the nurse’s office.

As students enter, blue Capital Senators spray-painted on the sidewalk mark six-foot increments.

Inside, the hallways mostly allow for one-way traffic, but blue tiles that already existed that run along either wall mark six feet apart, allowing for two-way foot traffic flow with distancing.

While they first intended for kids to grab their meals in the cafeteria and return to their classes, the plan changed and meals are instead delivered right to the classroom. Cleaning of high touch surfaces happens at least every two hours.

Administrators said they haven’t had many issues getting children to wear masks.

Mr. Dunford noted that, before classes started, administrators had training with teachers to prepare them with COVID-19 lessons and how to talk about social distancing and mask wearing.

“We took the track that we weren’t going to make masks a disciplinary infraction. We weren’t going to be on kids about masks. We were going to teach kids that that’s how we care about each other,” he said. “That when I wear my mask, I’m showing that I care for you. When you wear your mask, you’re showing that you care for me. I think that, and the fact that teachers are using those reminders, seems to be working well.”

Charles Sheppard, principal for William Henry, acknowledged conversation that had floated around of students wearing their masks on top of their heads, playing with them, etc.

“That just hasn’t been the case,” he said. “They came in pretty rooted in ‘This is safe.’”

Seeing the guidelines in practice has been a lesson in learning and adapting for next year — but also relieving some anxiety of returning to school.

“One of the things, the teachers that are here, they’re not all the ones that aren’t worried about the virus,” he said. “… They’ve been coming to me with their anxieties and been apologizing. I’m like, ‘Don’t apologize. This is exactly what we need. We need to know what the concerns are, we need to know what your worries are, so we can prepare to do this when we bring everyone back.’”

Mr. Dunford called teachers the linchpins.

“Their biggest challenge is they couldn’t hug their kids when they came back. Right from the start,” he said. “What I’m seeing with kids and the kids I’m talking to, they’re so excited to be back, I think they’ll follow any rule there is just so they can be here. They’re just really happy to be in school.”

At Booker T. Washington, similar methods were in place: clearly marked egress and ingress hallways, different entrances, temperature protocols, even scheduled bathroom breaks.

“We were given a clearer picture of how it can and will work,” said Lenita McIntyre, associate principal for South Dover Elementary.

“You can make anything look good on paper, it’s the practice that really matters,” said Kelly Green, principal of the early childhood program. “So it’s definitely always a relief to see it in action.”

Capital’s typical Summer Boost Program had a camp theme, but this year has integrated more academic year staples: art classes, physical education, music.

However, for summer schools part of the guidance is keeping cohorts of students, teachers and paraprofessionals together, so having other teachers come in to lead a class didn’t seem feasible.

“Pressure made diamonds out of that,” Mr. Dunford said. “We had to figure out, how do we get that expertise without having them in the room with kids?”

The answer: Zoom. The teachers are able to Zoom in to teach a lesson, while paraprofessionals mediate what happens inside the classroom.

“A lot of these kids thrive on drawing and music and just that physical activity,” Dr. Green said.

It was one piece of the social emotional learning that the district wanted to address when students got back in the buildings. Others include school counselors creating some lessons, as well as yoga, stretching and other physical mindfulness.

“So they are providing kids stretch breaks and movement and just some time to sort of talk and get some of that social piece back that they haven’t had for months,” Dr. Green said.

Social workers are present in the building, should children need extra support. But Ms. McIntyre noted she hasn’t seen much anxiety in the children.

“Children are so quick to adjust,” she said. “They got off the bus excited to be here.”

There are numerous nuances that go into the new normal — from making sure that there’s enough technology, to not sharing supplies, to shutting down water fountains and providing disposable water bottles, or discouraging tupperware for plastic bags, to limiting access to the building.

“We had to think about how we faced the public. This is the first time that we’ve not been open on the first day of school for families to come in and go to the classroom with their child,” Mr. Dunford said. “It was hard for some families when they dropped their kids off that first day when we had to say, ‘This is where we say goodbye here and you need to stay in your car.’”

And communication has been key, Mr. Dunford said. There’s been dialogue between educators and administration. But then there’s also been a growth in communication with families, he said.

There were conversations with parents about the boost program and the different offerings and what precautions were put into place and connecting families with parents who don’t speak English with someone able to interpret and translate directions to them.

“I don’t think anything we’ve learned from this will let us go back to normal,” he said. “Whatever we go back to is going to be different than it was. And I hope it is.”

Though it has just started, principals from all different schools have come by to see how the buildings are set up to meet the guidance.

Mr. Sheppard noted that the schools have had experience with in-person and remote learning at the end of last year. Hybrid is where more experience would be helpful, because schools will likely open that way.

“Because we’ve been working in all three scenarios, we believe we’re going to have to be able to ebb and flow, depending upon the health situation,” Mr. Dunford said. “So at some point we may be completely open. Another point, we may be hybrid. Another point, we may be in a full distance learning mode again. And we’ve got to be prepared for all three. Summer Boost has really allowed us to think through deeply how it worked.”

Reopening guidelines

Editor’s note: The Delaware Department of Education released its returning to school guidance Wednesday. The guidance addresses three potential scenarios for schools to open in, depending on the spread of the virus. Schools could be fully in-person, hybrid or remote. Below is a look at some of the guidance. The Delaware State News will continue to report on segments of the 34-page guiding document.

Face coverings, hygiene and health and screening protocols (before school begins instruction):

• Identify a lead for the response at the district- and school-building level.

• Ensure that each lead has the contact information for a DPH liaison for questions and to support contact tracing, as necessary.

• Prepare crisis response team for action should pandemic conditions worsen.

• Use updated information provided by DPH/DDOE/DEMA for the current crisis team to make informed decisions related to changes in COVID-19 spread and assess the potential need to make modifications to the structures currently in place.

• Activate resources (personnel, existing partners) to support administrator, teacher and student wellness.

• Review and augment, if necessary, the current composition of the crisis response team (name of team may vary) identified under the district’s/charter’s current School Comprehensive Safety Plan/Emergency Preparedness Plan in the Emergency Reporting Information Portal) for current membership and inclusion of, at a minimum, a school nurse, a school counselor, and a school psychologist who can focus on student and staff mental health and wellness.

• Support schools in the development of a process to gather and report on public health indicators, including students who present with COVID-19 symptoms, students whose immediate family members have tested positive for COVID-19, and student absenteeism.

• DDOE and DPH to identify potential processes for use. Current processes in place include the addition of coding to eSchoolPlus to track students presenting with COVID-19 symptoms.

• Ensure schools and school nurses have printed copies of the DPH COVID-19 symptoms and screening tools available for distribution to school staff, families, and students.

• DDOE and DPH to provide information sheets, sample family letters.

• Communicate early and often with families and students, via a variety of channels, about return to school transition information, including:

• De-stigmatization of COVID-19

• Positive health behaviors, including face coverings, social distancing, symptom monitoring and hygiene

When School Reopens (if schools are fully in-person and hybrid):

• Require face coverings for all students 4th grade and up, except when doing so would inhibit the student’s health. Strongly recommend face coverings for children age 2 and older through 3rd grade.

• Require face coverings for staff and students (4th grade and older) at all times except for meals or when doing so would inhibit the individual’s health. If outside, face coverings are to be worn by staff and students (4th grade and older) if social distancing cannot be maintained, except when doing so would inhibit the individual’s health.

• Allow face coverings that are homemade or disposable level one (basic) grade surgical masks; N95 respirators are not necessary.

• Refer to DPH guidance on face covering care.

• Do not require gloves except for cleaning or when normally indicated.

• Do not require gowns, hair coverings, or shoe covers.

• Wash hands or use hand sanitizer after students change any classroom; teachers in the classroom should wash their hands or use sanitizer every time a new group of students enters their room.

• Schedule hand washing with soap and water for students and teachers.

• Encourage families to complete the DPH health assessment every morning before school for each student. For students with a fever of 100.4 or higher or other COVID symptoms, families should consult the student’s health care provider before returning to school.

• Encourage staff to perform the same health assessment on themselves at home prior to each school day and stay home if any symptoms are identified.

• Advise families to regularly monitor their students for symptoms of COVID-19, including cough, congestion, shortness of breath, or gastrointestinal symptoms every morning. Any affirmative responses should prompt the family to keep the student home from school.

• Require students and staff to stay home if they have been asked to isolate or quarantine.

• Keep students who are sent home from school home until they have been cleared by their health care provider. Those who have tested positive for COVID-19 need to be cleared by DPH before returning to school.

• Ensure schools and school nurses have printed copies of the DPH COVID-19 symptoms and screening tools available for distribution to school staff, families and students.

• Transport home students who develop fever or become ill at school using standard procedures for students who are ill (or ambulance if clinically unstable). These students should be wearing a surgical mask and kept in a designated area of quarantine until they can be transported off campus. Nurses should wear N95 masks when caring for these students, as feasible.

• Do not allow students who develop fever or become ill at school to ride home on school buses.

• Have school nurse or COVID coordinator contact DPH Office of Infectious Disease Epidemiology (OIDE) to discuss next steps in the event that a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19.

• Monitor classmates closely for any symptoms.

• Coordinate with DDOE and DPH to notify families of the presence of any positive COVID-19 cases in the classroom and/or school to encourage closer observation for any symptoms at home.

• Keep students sent home from school for illness home until they have been cleared by a health care provider.

• Ensure school attendance policies do not penalize students for staying home when ill. Discontinue perfect attendance awards.

• Enable staff who self-identify as high-risk for severe illness to minimize face-to-face contact and allow them to maintain a distance of six feet from others, modify job responsibilities to limit exposure risk, or telework, if possible.

• Encourage families and staff to have individualized discussions with their health care providers to assess their own health risks and determine whether it is safe to attend school in person.

• Allow students and staff, if they choose to do so, to self-identify as having a high-risk medical condition to school staff for planning purposes in the event of an outbreak. Relevant privacy protections and HIPAA must be considered.


Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

Have a question, tip, or resources about the coronavirus pandemic? Submit it to our newsroom and we’ll do what we can to provide answers.