Opening Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic

To our educator heroes on opening schools during a pandemic,

I can only imagine the stress you feel as you face the challenges of trying to open schools during a pandemic. You are truly heroes. All our kids, but especially those with learning disabilities, really need to get back to school for their educational advancement, mental health and so their parents can get back to work. You are tasked with an incredibly important job that effects everyone.

Thinking of this herculean endeavor reminds me of stories my mother used to tell of America when she was a little girl during WWII. The children of America galvanized their potential through work and sacrifice to become part of the solution. The American spirit was alive as the children joined their community to step up to the plate.

I wonder if we could do more to cultivate this capacity for altruistic activism in our children to help keep schools open and safe. Masking is vital tool in curtailing the pandemic and wearing a mask seems to be the most important job our kids can do toward keeping their schools open for business. This will be a sacrifice for them – especially many of our LD kids who are challenged with impulsivity due to their diagnosis. Many fail to understand the crisis and their part in reclaiming our communities through masking.

Educators are experts at finding teaching moments in everything and I hope this letter can serve as a resource as you look for ways to create teaching moments in this time of emergency. Below you will find a list of ideas to spark your creativity to empower your students through knowledge to embrace sacrifice and see it’s potential for America’s recovery.

  1. Brand masking – Like the leaders in WWII who branded the sacrifices required by citizens through inspiring rhetoric, find an appropriate slogan to brand masking at your school linking masking to keeping the school open (example “Save our School” or “Safe at School.”)
  2. Enlist leaders – During WWII, celebrities were used to motivate Americans to cultivate their pride in selflessness and this could work at your school as
    1. Local health care professionals (especially if they are parents or alumni) speak to students about the efficacy of masking
    2. Well known alumni come to campus to talk discuss masking
    3. Older students create skits and public service announcements for younger students
    4. Famous people promote masking through videos
  3. Reframe existing community service programs
    1. Help students see that wearing masks all the time is a community service so they can see their sacrifice positively
    2. Write letters and art for patients at local veteran’s homes and nursing homes since they aren’t’ allowed visitors
    3. Build empathy and talk about the students at your school who have pre-existing conditions and can’t come back to school right now. Challenge students to imagine how they feel and (if appropriate) reach out to them virtually or though letters. Help students see their masking as a means to get these kids back in school.
    4. If you are a religious school, be sure to include the immune compromised population in your prayers teach students what this means
  4. Provide incentives – Instead of punishing kids who have trouble masking use positive behavior modifications to incentivize mask wearing and use peer pressure for good instead of evil.
  5. Teach skills with Covid-19 related imbedded content –
    1. History – learn about WWII and the sacrifices children made to save the country and relate to today’s crisis
    2. Math – look at statistics related the positive effects of masking on the spread of Covid-19
    3. English – write letters to people in isolation, read stories about sacrifice, journal their pandemic experiences
    4. Science – learn more about Covid-19, aerosols, efficacy of masking, transmission, immunology, antibodies, co-morbidity, etc.
    5. Health – learn about ways to build your immune system, reasons behind Covid-19 hygiene, exercise while masking
    6. Art – decorate masks, design signs for classroom and school campus to promote masking, make cards for Covid-19 patients in area hospitals
    7. Music – normalize masking by staging your own campus “Masked Singer” production and streaming
    8. Research – discover the importance of credible sources and differentiate by encouraging students to research the aspects of Covid-19 that interests them
    9. Vocabulary – Put away your Wordly Wise for a while and teach Covid-19 relevant vocabulary to normalize students’ experiences, lessen confusion and help students process their new normal
    10. Geography – Investigate the global aspects of the pandemic by tracking it’s spread so students won’t feel alone. Maybe connect with kids in other countries through zoom to share masking experiences
  6. Acknowledge the mental health challenges of masking
    1. Find volunteers from the community to lead meditation, mindfulness and yoga classes
    2. Promote use relaxation apps like “Calm”
    3. Encourage students to journal their experiences
    4. Encourage parents to stay in touch and let you know about any new family issues or fears
    5. Provide crisis management professional development for counselors and faculty/staff
    6. Invite volunteer mental health professionals in the community to visit your school to address the student body and faculty/staff regarding mental health issues attributed to the pandemic
    7. Plan lots of wiggle and stretch breaks (kids can learn the Macarena which doesn’t take much room but be careful because you might get the song stuck in your head)
  7. Create a Task Force – Solicit support for masking by creating a task force of leaders in the school community made up of older students, parents and faculty/staff to come up with more ideas about ways to normalize masking, improving the experience and positively branding the masking experience to keep schools open and students/faculty/staff safe.
  8. Support LD students (and others with disabilities)
    1. Review/analyze evaluations for students with learning disabilities to see how their diagnosis
    2. Build in repetition to your masking instruction to make sure information “sticks”
    3. Remember that masking with challenge LD kids in different ways than others (sensory issues, impulsivity, attention deficit, behavior control and focus)
    4. Encourage LD students whose deficits were increased by distance learning and time away from school

Opening schools is a daunting task during these hard times. I know you are working hard and I hope your school can successfully and safely stay open.

Georgann Mire
President, Greater Baton Rouge Learning Disability Coalition