Zero COVID cases so far amidst increased sanitization, outdoor classrooms, and some remote learners
By Carrie Steinweg
Although Lansing’s public schools have shifted to e-learning for at least the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year, there area a number of students in Lansing attending private school who have returned to in-person classes, although in a modified setting due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. One such school is Lansing Christian.
Changes to the school day, classrooms
Lansing Christian School is operating on a regular schedule where students are in the school building for in-person learning five days per week. “We wanted to give a sense of stability and normalcy for our kids and families,” said Principal Jon Postma. “There have been some small adjustments to the schedule. We moved up our earliest drop-off time by five minutes to give more time for us to do screening and temperature checks as students enter the building. We started our dismissal five minutes earlier so that we could stagger the release of students by grade level.”
Although the schedule is close to what it would have been pre-pandemic, there are many ways that the school day looks different this year to keep the 176 elementary and middle school students safe.
Among the changes are frequent hand washes or hand sanitizations, which occur as students enter school, at 10 a.m., at noon, and at 2 p.m. Air purifiers are located in every classroom, more learning takes place outdoors, face coverings are required in the school building, and desks are placed six feet apart. Students continue to eat their lunch in their classrooms, as they have in years past. Rather than having students leave their rooms for art, library, music, and Spanish classes, those teachers are often coming to the students’ rooms. “As much as we can keep kids separated and in their own group, the better,” Postma said.
Fifteen hand sanitizing stations have been installed throughout the building. Temperature checks are being done twice a day—once upon arrival and again at noon. Students also answer screening questions upon arrival. High-touch surfaces are sanitized multiple times a day and classrooms are now equipped with disinfectant spray bottles, disinfecting wipes, air purifiers, and electrostatic sprayers to disinfect classrooms after each day.
To avoid students congregating as school starts, entry happens one family at a time and dismissal times are also staggered. Postma said that enrollment is down a bit from last year, but that decrease has been a blessing as it allows for better social distancing.
The school’s fall sports have been cancelled and a determination will be made in a few weeks about the winter season. “For now our focus is being able to safely learn together,” said Postma.
In Joy Krygsheld’s junior high classes, changes have also been made for handing in papers so that students are not touching each other’s papers. School-issued laptops are being used for online textbooks and are sanitized each evening before entering the charging stations.
So far, there have not been any reported cases of COVID-19 within the student population or school staff. “We haven’t had any cases that have developed since we started school. God has been good,” said Postma. “That day will come when we will have a case, but we feel prepared to respond appropriately to keep our kids and families safe.”
Even with the school building open, families were given an option to do remote learning. About 15 students are learning at home at their parents’ request. “We did some major work to prepare our internet capabilities and gather resources to be able to livestream classrooms, make recordings, or communicate with students and parents,” said Postma. “Some may be remote for a short time; some may be remote for a longer time period. We want to partner with families to serve them as best we can during these uncertain times. Each family situation is different and we have to recognize and work with those differences.”
First grade teacher Karri Tempelman has eight students in her class and one of them is an online learner. “He picks up weekly work packets and joins us daily on Zoom. We try to include him like he is in our classroom,” she said. “He works on the assignments when we do and we even take him on the iPad outside when we use our outside classroom.”
Krygsheld teaches 7th and 8th grade math and 8th grade grammar/composition. “A few junior high students are participating via e-learning this year. For those students, junior high teachers are live-streaming their classes via Google Meet and are providing digital versions of learning activities and assessments,” she said. “The remote-learning students have a daily after-school check-in with one of the teachers to attempt to minimize problems and maximize communication. Though there are challenges to this system, it appears to be a workable option.”
She admits it can be hard to have the responsibility of teaching both students in her classroom and remote learners. “[It] does demand extra time and effort on the part of teachers and remote families/students,” she said. “One method of communication is a weekly email to parents documenting outstanding assignments from any/all classes. Consistent communication between teachers and remote families is key.”
Utilizing Outdoor Space
Krygsheld said that teaching math and grammar for in-school and remote students doesn’t readily lend itself to outdoor instruction. So far, her lessons have remained indoors, but she said some of her colleagues are taking advantage of using outdoor spaces to do some teaching.
Tempelman said the she has created an outdoor learning space for her first graders that they call their “secret classroom.”
“We have indoor/outdoor carpet to sit on and we we are getting really good at packing up our work bags and smart spot cushions so we have everything we need outside,” said Tempelman. “We think it is very special to be outside in the shade with a soft breeze learning with our friends.”
Opening chapel was held outside rather than indoors this year. It ended up being rescheduled and delayed by a few days due to rain.
Student Adjustment and Reaction
“My students really seem to be taking the changes in stride,” said Tempelman. “In our class the desks are six feet apart, we wear masks, we sanitize, we stagger hall and restroom times and wash hands, wash hands, wash hands, wash hands.”
Krygsheld has a homeroom size of 12 students, and her other classes range from 5 to 15 students per class period, plus remote students. “Students have been adjusting very well to the myriad of changes. None of us wish to have a repeat of the remote learning into which we were thrown this past spring and we are grateful to be back together in the classrooms,” said Krygsheld. “Face to face instruction is incredibly important to student success and the students themselves have become keenly aware of that. As a result, they have been cooperative and patient with each other and with teachers as we have settled into our new routines.”
“Parents with whom I have spoken have emphasized how happy they are to have the kids back in the building and are willing to do what it takes to keep them there,” said Krygsheld.
Lansing Christian is nearly a month into its school year, and Postma said things are still being ironed out, but overall, the feedback he has gotten is that everyone is thrilled to be back. “It is good to be together again,” he said. “Yes, some things are different, but there are so many advantages to learning together and being together.”
Postma noted that this year’s spiritual theme is fitting for the times: Standing on God’s Promises. “We have a community that is doing just that, standing on His promises. … With so much going on in our country, from a global pandemic to conversations over race and culture to a divisive political season, we know that we have sure, solid promises to stand on,” said Postma.
“Our family is very happy to be back to school at Lansing Christian in person,” said Melissa Vander Woude. “The kids are so glad to see their friends and be back in the classroom with their teachers.” She and husband Brad have three children at the school: Matthew, who is in 8th grade, and Jonathan and Zachary, who are both in 6th grade.
“While the teachers really did an amazing job with home learning last year, being in the classroom is much preferred for us,” she said. “We feel very confident in the safety protocols that are in place and are so thankful for the extra time and energy that all the teachers and staff are putting into keeping our kids safe and providing a wonderful education. While things are certainly different and unique, I feel that the kids have really done well adjusting so that they can be in school.”
Lansing Christian School is located at 3660 Randolph Street in Lansing.