Opening school in the age of a COVID-19 pandemic is like walking a tightrope.
Even in a small town with a small school on the western edge of North Dakota
At least according to Tyler Senn, the high school principal on the Bowman campus.
“It has gone as well as could be expected, and the kids have been fantastic,” he said after the first week. The students have done a good job of following and understanding the new guidelines and protocols, which have been put in place.
“They (the students) have been absolutely great. The staff is adjusting to the social distancing. They have been trying to find ways to do things better under the circumstances.
“It has gone very, very well and I am very, very happy. But...we still are trying to stay on our toes and trying to stay ahead of everything. We remind them this is what we are doing and this is why we are doing it...
“We are in this together so that we can keep the kids in the building, educate them and keep the kids out for our activities because that is a big part of what we do here in the building as well.
“We want to provide as much normalcy and opportunity for the kids as well, even if we have some protocols that might make school look a little different,” he said.
At the lower grades, the school is trying to find ways to limit the interaction between students to a certain extent. “We want to make sure we have a safe environment for our students,” Senn said.
One of the changes in the high school end of the building is the way the students go to their next classes, Senn explained. “Between classes our students all move in the same direction. We move in a clockwise rotation, so everyone is moving in the same direction in the hallways.
“In the junior high wing, there is just a hallway, so that is a little more difficult. We have arrows on the floor to keep one side of the hallway in one direction and the other side of the hallway moving in the other direction. We try to eliminate the weaving in and out a little bit,” he added.
It is a challenge, Senn admitted.
“For three minutes at a time between classes, we have 220 kids in the hallway... that is one of those issues that is difficult to navigate through,” he said. “We also have made adjustments in our schedules.
“Instead of eight periods during the day, we are only going to have four,” Senn said, explaining the new Block Day arrangement. “That eliminates some of those times in the hallways for the students so they are not out in the hallways as much.”
According to Senn, Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays the students in grades seven through 12 will have a normal eight period days.
“Wednesdays and Thursdays we have our block schedule where we have two classes in the morning and two classes in the afternoon. They meet longer – 90 minutes as opposed to 50 minutes.”
The school is running five bus routes, an expansion to help cut travel times, the principal said. “That automatically helps in terms of the number of students on a bus,” he added.
Senn also said that when there cannot be social distancing, that masks are recommended for the students.
“Give the current risk level – blue/green – it is just recommended and not required,” Senn added.
“There is probably a handful of students who have chosen to wear masks, especially in those situations where they can not socially distance from people. They are just taking extra precautions they feel is necessary. We respect that.
“I wear mine pretty diligently and so do other members of the staff,” he added, noting that he thought the school semester has gotten off to a good start.