How COVID-19 is reshaping Mesa’s classrooms The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

How COVID-19 is reshaping Mesa’s classrooms

How COVID-19 is reshaping Mesa’s classrooms
City News

By Zach Alvira
Tribune Staff Writer

While there is still no specific date for when Mesa Public Schools will be able to welcome students back to campus, that hasn’t stopped administrators from prepping hallways and classrooms to be as safe as possible.

Jeffrey Abrams, who is entering his 10th year as principal of Franklin at Brimhall Elementary School and is part of the district’s new health & safety design team, has spent the last six months with his team designing a plan all schools can follow when students return.

Abrams, with the help of other Franklin administrators, has already equipped his schools with signs, sanitization stations and other prerequisites to create safe environments.

“My kids go here, I have other administrators whose kids go here and teachers whose kids go here,” Abrams said. “We want to make it safe for not only them but for everyone.

“This is something we started working on when schools closed last spring.”

Signs from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describing proper social distancing techniques, hand washing techniques and other safe practices have been placed all over hallways, bathrooms and classrooms at Franklin.

There also are also several signs of encouragement – an idea Abrams believes will help kids stay motivated during a trying time.

Each classroom is equipped with hand sanitizer and a bottle of disinfectant spray, which will be used to clean all in-class supplies and desks after each use.

Before arriving on campus, all employees are required to submit a self-assessment on their phones that screens them for possible symptoms or exposure.

“It’s been a long process but there have been so many dedicated people,” Abrams said. “All of our minds came together to come up with what we believe will be best for our district and our students.”

Mesa Public Schools already rolled out its plan to have a modified in-person setting for students, with some attending Mondays and Thursdays while others attend Tuesdays, Fridays and alternating Wednesdays.

The rotation allows for classrooms and the school to operate at a limited capacity, further helping prevent a COVID-19 spread.

Unlike some schools, desks in Brimhall schools were already situated in rows before the pandemic rather than in groupings that other schools use.

This allowed for Abrams and his staff to space out the desks to allow for social distancing.

Additionally, students will use the same desk at all times, never sharing a seat.

And because Mesa plans to have students attend on alternating days, it allows for one empty desk between each student.

Abrams demonstrated this during an exclusive tour of his school on Wednesday.

To show how classroom seating would be handled, he took a Tribune reporter into a kindergarten room where folders were placed on desks that students would sit at on certain days.

Those with no folders would be used other times during the week.

Each student will store their own supplies in those desks, eliminating the sharing pencils, notebooks and other school essentials.

Mesa Public Schools also purchased 1,000 plexiglass partitions to be used on desks used by students who have a medical excuse for not complying with the facemask mandate that likely will be in place when campuses reopen.

Each partition is constructed with 4mm corrugated plastic polypropylene. The two side panels are 16 inches wide and the panel that will go across the front of the student’s desk is 22 inches wide. All three panels are clear and 23 inches high.

Abrams hopes, however, to keep the classrooms as normal as possible for students when they return.

“We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to make sure safety procedures are in place,” Abrams said, “but at the same time, we still want the students to feel like students.

“You still want the classroom to feel like a classroom. We want them to be a warm learning environment.”

Abrams has already come up with a plan to allow students to properly store masks if they are not needed at their desks.

The students will use a simple paper bag with a small cut on one side. The student places their mask in and puts the ear loop on the flap. This allows for one side of the mask to always touch the same side of the bag, therefore keeping the inside clean at all times.

Abrams said he and his family use the bags on a daily basis at home and while he is in his office at school.

“We can teach parents and students how to properly wear a mask and how to store it,” Abrams said. “It’s things like that we feel we are prepared for whether masks are mandatory or not.”

The school has also taken action to prevent overcrowding on playgrounds.

Abrams said there are different areas each class will be able to go to, whether it be a playground or ramada.

The school will also utilize one-way hallway movement for students and classes in order to limit face-to-face contact with other kids passing through the halls.

Currently, the school is asking parents wishing to meet with administrators to make an appointment.

While some new enrollees do walk up to the front office, they will be met with a locked door as officials limit the number of visitors in the office at one time.

Once inside, Plexi-glass will separate front-office workers and visitors. Additionally, sanitizer, gloves and masks are available for students.

Abrams hopes to one day soon welcome students back to his school in a near-normal setting.

A kindergarten teacher for nine years prior to becoming an administrator, he said some of his favorite memories come from being able to interact with students, giving them high fives, fist bumps and laughing in a classroom.

While that may not be allowed for some time, he looks forward to that day.

Overall, he said he was pleased with the effort from his own staff and task force at the district level for setting plans for the resumption of in-person learning.

“There’s always going to be some unknowns or outcomes that you have to work to control on the fly,” Abrams said. “But working with the task force and the district the last five months, our goal is to open when it is safe and to not have to close.

“We want to make sure everything under our control is being controlled to the best of our ability to ensure the safety to remain open and function as a school.” ′

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