Since the coronavirus pandemic shuttered the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island in March, the school has been adjusting to the new safety requirements while continuing to educate its students.
In the spring, that meant learning online. Because children from pre-K to fifth grade learn tactilely, teachers and staff went out weekly to drop off a bag of learning materials at each house. The lessons for the following week incorporated those materials in activities such as creating a Haggadah together.
To maintain a sense of community, every student received a “Together But Apart” T-shirt. The annual Zimriyah concert took place online, as did the talent show, which had the “silver lining” of increasing the audience.
Teachers also scheduled regular one-on-one video chats with students. And instead of a special visitors day, a photographer went around taking porch photos of students to send to grandparents and other loved ones.
Even project-based learning, a hallmark of the Providence school, continued remotely. For years, third graders have researched a topic of their choosing. They learn how to find information and look at sources critically, and then how to present their new knowledge in a purposeful way. This student-centered work continued through the spring, with Zoom presentations in May.
For September, the school is tentatively planning to reopen on a full-time basis. The first day of school is Sept. 2. The current plan is for doors to open at 7:45 a.m., and the day will end at 3:15 p.m., or 1:45 on Fridays. All faculty and staff will wear masks. Students will wear masks as much as possible in the classrooms and when traveling between classrooms. When masks are not possible or interfere with instruction, other measures like physical distancing, plexiglass partitions, and outdoor classrooms will be employed.
Drawing on a reopening taskforce of parents, community members and staff, including a pediatrician, psychologist, legal expert and technology coordinator, the current thinking is to fully separate classes. Each class will have its own restroom and will eat lunch separately.
To give students more opportunity to socialize, outside recess will involve three separate bayteem (houses). Pre-K and kindergarten will be in one bayit (house), first through third in another, and fourth and fifth grades in a third. The school has also set up a separate isolation room in case any student or staff member suddenly develops symptoms.
These plans, of course, depend on how the pandemic evolves. The Centers for Disease Control will issue new guidelines for the state in mid-August, and the JCDS will adjust if necessary.
Zoom meetings with parents, and one with the kids, are set for August.
Should the situation require a return to distance learning, the school will build on the protocols and pedagogy developed in the spring.
JOHN LANDRY is a writer in Providence and the father of two alumni of the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island. His wife, Rochelle Rosen, serves on the board.