“There are academic posters, there are learning tools on the walls,” said Dr. Anna Cutaia, superintendent of Milford Public Schools. She showed off a classroom at Meadowside Elementary School, explaining what it will look like this fall in the age of COVID-19.
“Our teachers are making every effort to make our classrooms as warm and as welcoming as they always have been,” Cutaia said. “So the biggest difference you’ll see is how we spread our furniture out.”
There will be no more group seating in kindergarten classrooms. Instead, 16 students will sit in rows six feet apart. But visually, much of the room stays the same and that’s one of the goals: a tiny bit of normalcy.
“It’s not the physical layout of a room that makes a classroom, it’s really about the classroom community,” said Gail Krois, principal of Meadowside Elementary School.
Teachers have plexiglass around their desks where masks are not required. Students, however, will have to wear masks at their desks.
Cutaia said they’re turning all available space in school buildings into classrooms, including conference rooms and reading rooms.
Outside of the classrooms, the hallways are clearly marked with special directional stickers and markers for keeping six feet apart.
“Some hallways will be one-way streets, as you encounter in traffic, and some hallways are two-way streets,” Cutaia said.
The school district has planned handwashing, hand sanitizing, and special bathroom and mask breaks. Kindergarten through 10th-grade students will stay in class cohorts. As for juniors and seniors, they’re working on plans for class electives.
There are 5,400 students in Milford and about 80% are planning to return this fall. That leaves about 900 opting for remote learning.
“There will be a Chromebook or camera in the classroom so that students can log in and be a part of this, this classroom environment, this community,” Cutaia said.
All of it, the plexiglass, PPE, and 800 new desks cost money. The school district has received some money from the state and they’re hoping for more.
“This is definitely not included in what we planned for, for the 20-21 school year, so these are costs that will go beyond what we planned for,” Cutaia said.
As students return, the district has won two social-emotional learning grants totaling $20,000 to help students emotionally adapt to all the changes.
“Our curriculum includes some shared read alouds, it includes some shared activities, and really just that awareness so kids can self-advocate for what they need,” Krois said.
The school district said they’re finalizing the plan for getting kids home - students will have assigned seats on the bus. The first ones on the bus will load all the way to the back, and the bus will fill to the front. The last ones on board will be in the front, and they’ll be the first ones off heading home.