JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Teachers at a Duval County charter school are getting creative to make campuses safe for students to return to this week.
Students who attend Seaside Charter, a tuition-free public charter, can return Thursday to three campuses in Jacksonville: Mayport, the Northside and San Jose. But going back to school will look and feel different this year.
Charter schools follow the same county and state rules as traditional schools but have more flexibility in learning options.
At Seaside’s North Campus on Monday, teachers were making their last-minute preparations for a new school year with new challenges.
“I think that’s kind of my job to help them with the transition of the easiest way possible,” said kindergarten teacher Tania Pollard.
Pollard will be teaching 18 kindergarteners by the end of the week — 5- to 6-year-olds who will be told to wear masks and social distance from their friends. Students’ seats are spaced out and they each have their own set of school supplies.
“One thing I’ve been thinking about is using the bubble space and going outside and looking at bubbles and seeing what happens when two bubbles get close together,” Pollard said. “What do they do? They pop. So we should try to keep our personal bubble space so we can keep the beauty of what a bubble is. And they love bubbles.”
Teachers and students here will wear masks in the classroom and hygiene is a top priority. Face shields are provided for phonics and other lessons that require students to see lips.
“These are the masks that were providing for each of the children,” said third-grade teacher Dylan Shanteau. “They each get a mask.”
Shanteau said his campus is spread out, making distancing easier. There are places to teach outdoors, and parents have pitched in to make it safe. Some built picnic tables so children can learn and eat outside. He said the school already has a large focus on outdoor activities, including a garden for each class.
“It is huge to have them behind us and helping us out and giving support to go ahead and make this happen,” he said.
Like public schools, charter parents have the option to keep their children home to learn online. There are also plans to move a class or the entire school to distance learning in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.
The principal of the Northside Campus said of about 240 students enrolled this year, half will be learning from home for at least the first portion of the school year. Certain Seaside teachers are designated to specifically assist students who are distance learning.
Pollard said while she did initially have concerns about returning to teaching on campus, she decided it was in everyone’s best interest to return.
“I may have thought about it, but my love for the children is too strong,” she said. “I love my students. I’m here for them. That’s the number one reason why I am a teacher, so I feel a stronger need to come back, especially during the pandemic.”
Students who don’t follow the rules could be asked to learn from home.
Students at Duval County Public Schools also return Thursday and will be required to distance and wear masks.