On October 19th, Baymonte Christian School will begin another Monday. While that doesn’t sound like a huge feat, it will be their sixth week with in-person instruction without any incidences of COVID. So far, some students have missed class due to the common cold, but none of the 270 students have tested positive for Coronavirus.
The decision to forgo virtual classes was not easily reached. Beginning last spring, Baymonte Christian School scrambled to move online, like all other institutions in our County. Principal Steve Patterson commends his staff, “Our teachers rose to the occasion and worked harder than ever at the beginning of shelter-in-place and distance learning. They’ve had to continue to do so.” Throughout the summer, staff and faculty discussed possibilities for the upcoming school year over Zoom. When they reached the decision to open in person, Patterson noted that “Some of our faculty were reticent and concerned… We had a longtime Baymonte teacher walk away, but the last thing I want to do is push someone out of their comfort zone.”
Baymonte Christian started the school year tentatively, meeting with parents one-on-one for the first two weeks of September. During those meetings, students’ distance learning experiences were assessed and the families were run through a new kind of orientation, as Back to School Night was canceled. In the first two weeks, Patterson watched staff perceptions greatly change, “The amount of appreciation that the parents were showing to the staff was tangible. We’re here because we believe this is a ministry, we care about our students, and this is a real opportunity to demonstrate that.”
On September 14th, students aged 5-14 exited cars with backpacks and lunchboxes after passing health checks. As expected, much has changed in accordance to CDC guidelines and as advised by the Reopening Committee, staffed with two doctors, three nurses, parents, and faculty. The new school nurse, checks with each student upon arrival, and can even “send students back into the recheck line. She has the final authority on who can come to school that day.” Children are sent home at the sign of any symptom, until they have gone 24 hours’ symptom free. If they’re fevered, a student must go 72 hours without running a temperature before their return.
As a result of the new check in protocol, Patterson has seen “a number of students go home sick.” However, “as the start of the school year colds have trailed off, attendance has bettered.” If a student were to test positive for COVID, “the entire grade would be dismissed for a week.” After three days of that week pass, students and teachers “are eligible to get tested, since it takes several days after exposure to test positive.” Throughout that process, Patterson assures that Baymonte would be “in close contact with Gail Newell, the County Health Officer, “and she would have the final call in allowing students to return.”
In addition to their newest faculty member, Baymonte has included many other innovations to their 2020 protocol. Class sizes have been decreased between 12-18 students and teachers are tested for COVID every two months. Additional teachers have been hired, protective Plexiglas has been placed in classrooms from kindergarten to third grade, and above third grade, six feet of social distance is required in all classrooms. Teachers keep windows and doors open for airflow, alongside newly installed HEPA filters. Music is now taught in the church parking lot. Every grade wears masks throughout the school day, but Patterson interjects, “at times younger students may remove their mask if they’re behind a screen or socially distanced.”
Lunch and recess have posed their own unique set of problems, which Baymonte has responded to with creative solutions. The school schedule has been “rearranged, so there are no interactions between grade levels.” As such, lunch is divided by grade and students now sit two to a picnic table, across from each other. After lunch, students play during recess and extra aides supervise. If children are “exercising, exerting themselves out on the field and socially distanced, they can take their mask off.” Between class, lunch, and recess all students are required to use new outdoor hand wash stations as well.
The school’s COVID protocols can be summed up as proactive. Patterson shared the main message in his last faculty meeting, “Even though it’s unlikely the virus is here, we want to treat it as though it’s present on the campus. We want to take this so seriously.”
While it may seem like these are great lengths to go to, or in-person learning poses an unnecessary COVID risk, Patterson feels strongly that Baymonte Christian is doing the best for their students. “It’s been a very different year, but it’s also been terrific. The joy on the campus is palpable. We’ve been concerned lately with our students’ mental health, especially due to isolation and evacuation traumas. We will willingly sacrifice some freedoms and liberties to develop the social and mental growth of our students. It’s the best we can do for our kids.”