Some schools take the entire summer season off. Others? They’re already sharpening their pencils, gearing up for a brand-new semester of knowledge, lessons, and laughs.
What’s the best way to accommodate a safe, healthy, COVID-free learning environment for learners of every age? It’s not difficult—with caution comes a more stable classroom unlikely to be disrupted by COVID-19.
The CDC guidelines for back to school
You’ll find the CDC’s guidelines on returning to school safely on its website. Most of these back to school tips cover the standard stuff, but a few notable stand-outs surprised even us.
1. Take COVID seriously
We’re three years into this pandemic, and many of us have already become desensitized to a lot of the social responsibilities associated with pandemic relief. The CDC urges us, however, to do what we can to avoid forgetting the most basic social hygiene skills we’ve acquired since COVID-19 hit us initially.
Treating COVID-19 with the gravity it deserves is the best way to prevent an outbreak on your premises. All of the usual advice will apply here—masking, vaxxing, and social distancing, especially indoors.
2. Take student mental health seriously
Going back to school isn’t usually an unduly stressful experience. The circumstances surrounding the pandemic, however, have been shown to be incredibly taxing on the emotional well-being of young people everywhere.
Check in with students that appear to be struggling as we transition into the coming semester. Offer a safe learning environment and additional support in the form of counseling and other mental health services.
3. Talk about vaccination with your families
Children five and under are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. If your student body is on the lower end of the vaccination curve, we recommend providing parents and families with information validating this precaution.
If possible, try to help them access any vaccination resources they may need to proceed. Provide information, evidence, and case studies in support of the practice. Many of these resources can be found easily from the CDC and other bodies of authority.
4. Encourage good hygiene
Hand-washing is one of the simplest ways that students can protect themselves and everybody else around them, even if they’re very young. Learners of all ages should wash their hands after playing outside, before and after a meal, and after using the restroom.
If you’re at the head of an elementary school classroom, you might consider putting up signs to remind your students of this extremely helpful measure. Teach them to lather up for at least 20 seconds, getting into every nook and cranny. Rinse well, and dry with a clean paper towel.
5. Keep recess safe
Staying cool in the first few weeks of school isn’t always easy. If you teach in an especially hot or humid region, do what you can to protect your students from dehydration and overheating. Water, well-ventilated classrooms, and staying indoors on the hottest days of the year can help prevent these conditions from impacting student attention and academic performance.
Contact sports and other forms of rough-housing may also distract your students if they end up injured in some way. If required, things like helmets, elbow pads, and knee pads should be utilized during gym or when using some types of playground equipment. This precaution and all of the above can help your students avoid any downtime during the day.
6. Ask that sick students stay home
The best way to prevent a minor surge in your school is to ask sick children and those that test positive for COVID to stay at home to rest and recover.
Good attendance is, of course, one of the most important precursors to great learning outcomes. If one shining star ends up infecting his or her entire classroom, however, everybody ends up getting sick, and then these students may need to take a day of absence themselves.
Parents should be observant at home, monitoring their families for COVID-19 symptoms and testing their kids when they appear to be ill or after a possible exposure to the virus. It’s one of the most straightforward means of COVID containment recommended by the CDC—plus, who doesn’t love a day off once in a while?
7. Speak to the power of a healthy lifestyle
The best way to keep kids healthy? Keep them healthy in every area of life, not just within the realm of COVID.
Kids should be active, well-fed, hydrated throughout the day, and getting plenty of sleep at night. Healthy habits support optimal development, making learning delays and other deficiencies much less likely.
For older kids, an anti-tobacco, anti-alcohol, and anti-drug program can and should be a part of the learning culture they’re immersed in daily. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, SAMHSA, has this guide available for educators hoping to make a difference.
How to prevent COVID in the classroom
If your school is able to follow the CDC guidelines listed above, you’ll likely be in great shape as summer gives way to the fall season. Just like the flu, COVID surge season means that peak case reports are likely just around the bend. The good news: when you start now, you reinforce good habits that can help you prevent an outbreak in your school and within your district. For more information on how to keep your students safe from a possible COVID infection, we would love to help in whatever way we can.