The Howard School opens on new campus with health protocols in place
Kindergarten teacher Jennifer Gonzalez started the school year on Zoom, trying to hold small kids’ attention for a couple hours each day.
Then, she logged off and headed to her old classroom to remove her carefully selected decor and transfer them to her new classroom, roughly three times the size of her old digs.
“The administration worked so hard all summer long to move our campus,” she said. “There’s a lot of steps to make it safe.”
The Howard School in Carpinteria opened Monday at a new campus, this time located at Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church in indoor classrooms next to a large, outdoor field. Headmaster Joel Reed worked to secure the new location because he was eager to reopen but needed a safer space for students.
“To see how happy they are, not just to go to recess but to go to class, is so refreshing,” he said. “I’m so glad we were able to open for them.”
Ms. Gonzalez said she loves hearing her class giggle and can tell the students are smiling — even behind masks.
“One student came up to me on the first day and said ‘Ms. Gonzalez, this is so much better than Zooming,’” she said.
During Zoom classes, she could see the anxiety on the kids’ faces. They cried out of frustration and argued with their parents as they tried to adapt to technology.
“For me, with teaching and education, it’s so much more than academics. It includes the social and emotional aspects and feeling safe,” she said. “Now that we’re back in a physical classroom, it really encompasses The Howard School philosophy.”
Headmaster Reed also spoke about the importance of social growth.
“The hard part of remote learning is that it’s only focused on academics. The other pillars of a child’s development can’t be truly nurtured in that kind of an environment,” he said.
Some parents expressed concern initially when he announced his intent to return to classrooms, and he made sure there was an online option available. After he explained the safety precautions, though, all the parents were comfortable with in-person learning.
When students enter school in the morning, they line up (six-feet apart) to get their temperatures taken. Cubbies are outside the classroom, and they wash their hands immediately upon entering.
Ms. Gonzalez is thankful she has two sinks inside her room and one outside. The new spacious room allows for ample social distancing, and she tries to get her class outside and make use of the large field on the new campus.
She even has a teacher’s aide working with the class part time to keep the environment safer. The school hired more staff to adhere to health guidelines and even advance those precautions.
On the first day, students decorated hula hoops to carry as a reminder of their six-foot bubble. They eat lunch outdoors and sit inside their hoops. A bag is attached to the hoops to hold masks while eating.
She was worried the masks would be uncomfortable for kindergarteners and asked parents to have kids practice wearing masks at home prior to the first day in class.
“It’s amazing how adaptable and compliant they are,” she said. “Even if someone’s mask goes slightly below the nose, someone will say, ‘I can see your nose!’”
Headmaster Reed added, “Students and teachers alike, they see how important it is to stay safe and keep this learning environment alive.”
He heard sixth graders keeping peers accountable as he strolled down the hall. They reminded one another to space out and keep masks on in order to be able to remain in the classroom.
“It’s gratifying, almost beyond description, to see how pleased the children are for being at school. This process has shown children, even the younger children, how important school is to them,” he said.
He was determined to open classroom doors to the students and is thankful the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department made the process as smooth as possible, even responding to emails on weekends.
The class size of the Howard School made it easier to adhere to the small cohort guidelines. In total, the school welcomed back nearly 70 students in preschool through sixth grade. Students and faculty have been tested for COVID-19, according to Admissions Advisor Anita Betancourt.
Nonetheless, it was still a large undertaking to open up.
“I think it would be very difficult for larger districts,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “I feel very lucky to work in a smaller school that can open for its students.”
The school day isn’t completely back to normal. They used to teach 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m., but now classes conclude around 1:30 p.m.
“We can’t do P.E. yet, and it’s really hard for kindergarten to work that long without breaks and lots of play time,” she said.
But a slightly shorter day beats teaching through Zoom, she says, where her kindergarteners get frustrated and even leave during a lesson.