This article is one of a series of articles produced by The Seattle Medium through support provided by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to Word In Black, a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media outlets across the country.
By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
As we’re hoping the storm is passing over, humanity is still reeling from COVID. Tamela Armstrong, an instructional assistant for the Seattle Public School District (SPS), and Kay Allen, a junior high school science teacher in Seattle, feel optimistic about the future and especially the way their schools and school districts have handled the pandemic.
Teaching Pre-K in SPS, Armstrong believes that the difference from the beginning of the virus to now has been dramatic but still is a work in progress. SPS has adhered to and implemented COVD-19 prevention strategies with guidance from public health officials, and have set in motion policies to help keep their instructors and students as safe and as healthy as possible.
“I think with such short notice on the events that took place, I think the Seattle Public School district did a very good job with the time that they had,” says Armstrong. “I was really shocked because it was like we were living through a real pandemic. I mean we read about them, we teach about it, we read the history like the Spanish Flu and other pandemics that happened in the past, this was really getting serious.”
Beginning a new school year with a better understanding of COVID, SPS began providing students and teachers the necessary resources and assurance that they could safely return to in-person learning.
According to SPS officials, ventilation and air quality were essential to a return to in-person learning.
“We will maintain air quality by managing air circulation and using high performance air filters. Classrooms and common areas will be cleaned and disinfected each day. In the classroom, to the extent possible, students and staff should practice physical distancing,” says SPS on their website.
Because schools do much more than instruct, all school districts worked to step up and to make sure the learning environment is safe.
“I think my school district is doing pretty well in its preparedness,” says Allen. “The experience has been positive and productive at least when it comes to the health and safety of the kids.”
However, one hurdle Armstrong is dealing with is helping her students become socially acclimated to the in-class learning environment. Getting them to understand and adhere to social etiquettes, and following prevention protocols like staying masked, social distancing, etc.
“What I noticed is once we went into in-person [learning] it was really hard on the kids, the social emotional part was really hard,” says Armstrong. “Before they had only been on the computers together. So, it was difficult because you can see that being on the computer couldn’t teach them to share, take turns, engage with other kids, and play games together.
It is a balancing act. Although districts have confidence in their ability to open schools safely, the threat of COVID still exists and so balancing COVID response has become the challenge.
“I think the new year started off well,” says Armstrong. “But what I will say is it is really taxing on an individual when you constantly must quarantine, or with any little symptom you have to get tested, you can’t come back to work until the results are back.”
“I would say it’s a real inconvenience,” she adds. “I do understand the protocol, I do understand the safety measures, but at the same time it is very inconvenient. In Preschool symptoms are like almost every day. The minute you’re back to school with 20 kids, chances are someone is going to get sick.”
“For me as a staff member, my child was exposed to COVID from a staff member at her school, so she had to quarantine for 14 days,” says Armstrong. “She was sent home with laptop in tow and expected to join class and I as a parent had to be present for her to get her into class and be supportive. I couldn’t just leave her at home. She’s nine years old so that meant I needed to take 14 days [off from work].”
“I don’t think support on that front is being addressed and how to support staff who may have to quarantine and miss work without penalization,” explains Armstrong. “That part was hard for me as a parent and as a staff member. I can’t be in two places at once.”
For Allen, whose curriculum centers around engagement and close contact activities, the virtual learning environment was difficult to manage, primarily because science depends deeply on experiments, examples, and student participation. But she also admits that COVID protocols for in-person learning also places limitations on learning.
“It is tough for science,” says Allen. “Because ultimately science is a very hands-on subject so teaching virtually was incredibly difficult because it’s hard to have a science class without experiments, you are losing a large method of learning as well as fun.”
“It nice being back in person because we are able to do more experiments,” Allen continued. “But it can be tough because I am limited based on the fact that my kids can’t be to close together, can’t have to much mingling, if they do something they have to keep their mask on, have to clean up after, its kind of a give and take.”
As much as the times have been trying, teachers are among those frontline workers who on a daily basis put their lives on the line for the benefit of others. Armstrong believes that, although things may be more difficult than before, it is important for everyone to keep looking at the bigger picture.
“Teachers are doing the best that they can with resources, time limits, protocols that they are given and training that is provided,” says Armstrong. “I would also say maybe another year of remote learning may have been beneficial. But as a parent and a teacher we must keep doing what we’re doing, wearing masks, get tested even if you are vaccinated or not. The safety and health of our children and staffs are paramount if our school year and future school years are going to be successful.”