Roughly a year ago, students all over the country went from having fun together on the playground to not being able to play with one another at all; from eating lunch with friends in the senior quad to eating alone at their kitchen tables. Graduations and theatre performances switched to virtual formats; sports seasons were cut short or canceled–the rich experience of being part of a vibrant classroom and campus community just wasn’t possible. It’s been a tough year.
But things are starting to change… there’s hope on the horizon! We now have a preponderance of data to guide us as we move beyond the challenges of COVID. As a school community, this means getting as many of our students back to campus as possible — something the research demonstrates is both beneficial and safe to do.
The Science Says: It’s BENEFICIAL for Students to Return to Campus
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released updated guidance on opening schools safely. Perhaps the most notable aspect of their publication was the introductory statement: “The AAP continues to strongly advocate that all policy considerations for school COVID-19 plans should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.”
Why did the AAP make such a strong statement about the importance of getting students back into the classroom? There are two compelling reasons:
- There is now widespread agreement that students learn best when in a traditional classroom setting. In a joint statement, the AAP, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, and The School Superintendents Association, stated, “We recognize that children learn best when physically present in the classroom.”
- It is also widely agreed upon that in-person learning provides benefits that transcend academics. Students “also learn social and emotional skills at school, get healthy meals and exercise, mental health support, and other services that cannot be easily replicated online.”
So while remote instruction bridged the gap between shutting down last spring and slowly reopening last fall, it’s now clear that virtual instruction isn’t a suitable long-term substitute for the robust nature of the learning and interaction that takes place when students are physically present in a classroom setting.
The Science Says: It’s SAFE for Students to Return to Campus
One of the most hotly debated topics during the pandemic has been whether or not it is safe for children to come back to the classroom. With every passing week, there is more and more scientific evidence that begs this answer: Yes — in-person instruction is safe, providing proper COVID protocols have been put in place.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), less than 1 out of 10 confirmed COVID infections have occurred among children aged 5 – 17, and children in that age group are more apt to have a mild case of the virus or to be totally asymptomatic, should they be infected. Furthermore, a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that “there has been little evidence that schools have contributed meaningfully to increased community transmission.”
While it’s clear that children and adolescents are unlikely to become seriously ill if they contract the virus, multiple health and governmental agencies stress the importance of maintaining strict COVID protocols in schools that are operating with students on campus. The CDC has recently identified “five mitigation strategies” for safely resuming in-person learning — all of which have been the mainstays of Fairmont’s “Safe Reopening Plan” from the beginning: universal masking, social distancing, hand-washing and respiratory etiquette, cleaning and ventilating facilities, and contact tracing, isolation and quarantine protocols.
Childhood is a fleeting span of life where each day represents a priceless opportunity for learning and personal growth. COVID may have put our way of life on hold, but it didn’t stop us as educators from finding ways to keep our students moving forward. This past year, they have learned volumes about how to adapt and persevere–life skills that will serve them well as we return to our beloved and familiar school customs.
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