In a lower school Zoom meeting on Friday, Sept. 18, Head of School Lee Thomsen, along with the lower school faculty, explained to families that K-5 students are no longer returning to school on Sept. 22.
A few days before Country Day was to welcome K-5 students back in-person, the school had to scuttle its plans to reopen, Head of School Lee Thomsen explained in an email on the same day.
“I am incredibly frustrated with these developments,” Thomsen said in the email.
The school’s previous plan was to have teachers move through cohorts of students; however, due to updated school guidelines announced by Sacramento County on Sept. 17, teachers are no longer allowed to teach in-person with multiple cohorts, Thomsen wrote.
Before the change of plans, the faculty of the lower school prepared for a completely different classroom experience.
On the second floor of the lower school building, fourth-grade teacher Pam Livesey is removing mini couches and stuffed animals from her classroom. Once vibrant, the room has been transformed. Twelve desks are spaced six feet apart — perfect for the lower school’s return to in-person learning amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The waiver for K-5 students to return to campus was originally approved on Sept. 10 by the Sacramento County Public Health Department.
Of the 219 students in the lower school, as many as 54 were planning to stay remote, said Thomsen.
As of Sept. 17, 26 other elementary schools in Sacramento County have had their waivers approved. However, Country Day was unable to get its sixth-grade waiver approved due to the mixing of cohorts for world language and elective classes. Additionally, most sixth-grade teachers also teach seventh and eighth graders, which makes developing an eligible schedule more difficult, Thomsen said.
Kindergarten would have been the first grade to return to campus starting Sept. 22. The lower school planned to stagger the starting dates of different grades to slowly introduce students to the campus, Livesey said.
“We were worried about the level of anxiety some of the kids might feel after being home with their families for six months,” Livesey said.
Having a staggered schedule allows faculty to quickly fix any problems that may arise, she said.
Each grade has been split up into multiple cohorts, each with its own room: three for kindergarten, fourth and fifth grade, and two for first, second and third grade.
Head of Lower School Maisae Affour called each room a “stable bubble.” All the cohorts will stay in their own bubbles during the school day. Recess and lunch will still take place outside.
“It is safer to have lunch and recess outside. But, regardless, we will be social distancing, and each cohort has a designated area on the field. We’ve also ordered recess equipment for each cohort, so they don’t have to share,” Affour said.
The lower school also hired three teacher assistants and a kindergarten teacher, Richelle Cooley, to assist with the added number of cohorts.
Both Livesey and Affour emphasized the enforcement of handwashing and wearing masks.
In addition to enforced hygiene, Thomsen said the lower school will be using an app, “PickUp Patrol,” to ask parents a series of screening questions before they bring their children to campus. Additionally, parents would be required to take their children’s temperatures before they come to school; faculty also would have to perform temperature checks on students at the curb before they let anyone enter the campus, Thomsen said.
Likewise, teachers were required to check their own temperatures, and would have COVID-19 tests on a regular basis, Livesey said.
To aid in preventing infections, classrooms also have changed.
“Bookshelves and comfortable chairs have had to go by the wayside to fit the spaced-out desks, so the rooms look more sterile than they have before,” Thomsen said.
Livesey said teachers have also gotten “extensive cleaning supplies to wipe down every desk every day” and enough materials for each student so they won’t have to share.
The original plan would’ve had remote students call into live instruction using Zoom, Livesey said.
“Our goal as teachers is for every student to feel connected,” she said. “We want to teach a lesson for kids on Zoom and in the classroom at the same time. We’re figuring it out little by little.”
First-grader Valentina Ponce planned to come back.
“We trust that Country Day is a safe place for Valentina, and decided to send her back to campus because we believe Country Day has the best interests of all its students at heart,” said her mother, Alma Ponce.
Even though the circumstances are different, Livesey said teachers are trying to deliver the same curriculum as before.
“I’ve been teaching for over two decades, and now with the pandemic, I feel like a new teacher — learning every new thing is difficult,” Livesey said. I want everyone to know that every teacher is doing their best.”