SEPTEMBER 22, 2020 – Principals from the Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Department of Defense Education Activity schools are praising their teams, students and parents for successfully creating a safe learning environment during the early weeks of the 2020-2021 school year.
After successfully opening amid the COVID-19 virus, the principals from Barsanti Elementary School, Mahaffey Middle School and Fort Campbell High School reflect on what changes have made the transition back to in-person learning a success.
Barsanti Elementary School
Like the other schools across the installation, Barsanti Elementary School staff has placed directional stickers on the floors to help direct student-traffic flow while maintaining social distancing in the hallways. The desks in classrooms and seating in the lunchroom are properly spaced, sanitation takes place at regular intervals and everyone is wearing a face mask. They also found a way to alternate times for the use of the playground for recess. Disinfectant spray has been provided to the staff to clean high-touch areas after each use.
“I think the students and staff have done amazingly well,” said Hugh McKinnon, Barsanti principal. “It was a little bit cumbersome, but I think the school year has come together nicely. We had some concerns about the younger students being able to keep their face masks on for long periods of time. We thought it would be more of a challenge than it turned out to be. I equate it to the parents telling me they have been making the effort to have their children wear these coverings when they are out and about outside of the home.”
McKinnon also attributes their success to the Barsanti back-to-school team and the support of the community. They have only had to make minor changes to some of their seating arrangements in the lunchroom to better ensure social distancing.
The Fort Campbell schools back-to-school teams include teachers, paraprofessionals and parents who were part of back-to-school planning, he said.
“They pretty much had everything planned and sorted out for us prior to arriving [at] school, which made things easier,” McKinnon said.
While teachers and staff have had to get creative, he said, they have risen to the occasion and are doing a great job keeping students and themselves safe while continuing with the daily lessons.
“I think we’ve learned from the other schools around us and had a lot of information on what our challenges would be and what to expect,” McKinnon said. “It all seemed to come together very well. Now it’s just a matter of making sure everything is habit and to not let up and keep up with our routine practices.”
McKinnon said he is thankful for his staff, parents and students who are facing the challenges and are continuing to work together every day.
“I’d really like to give a shout out to the students,” McKinnon said. “They’ve taken all of the challenges seriously while maintaining their positive attitudes and are still managing to have fun.”
Mahaffey Middle School
After reviewing daily operations and COVID-19 precautions, the Mahaffey Middle School staff decided to keep students in one classroom as much as possible, with the teachers moving from classroom to classroom for each subject.
“The students are in one classroom for a majority of their day,” said Linda Haberman, principal of Mahaffey. “The students are saying they really like it, and I think it’s building little communities within the classroom. Everyone agrees it’s the safest way to go. They do come out for their various electives, but the students are really liking it.”
The students and parents have adapted easily to the new environment, and everyone has been very supportive, Haberman said.
“The students have done a fantastic job with social distancing and wearing their masks, all of the mitigations we’ve put into effect,” she said. “Our parents have been very understanding, especially with our decision to limit the amount of people we have coming into our building every day. We’ve been meeting with parents a lot virtually.”
The school staff decided to slowly begin after-school activities with a few clubs including National Junior Honor Society, Model United Nations, Spanish Club and the math competition team, Haberman said.
Students attending virtual learning also can participate in the clubs virtually or choose to attend in-person. They try to host the clubs outdoors as much as possible, weather permitting, Haberman said, adding that teachers have also incorporated outdoor learning into their classes’ daily routines.
“We’re going slow, but trying to do everything very precisely,” she said. “One of the things I think has been helpful is our mask breaks. We have it arranged so teachers can take their students outside during scheduled parts of the day, when the weather is good, and they can hold some classroom discussions at a social distance with their masks off.”
The only thing they have had to adjust since school started was the lunchroom seating arrangements, and now there are eating areas throughout the school to help with social distancing, Haberman said.
“I want to shout out to my entire staff. They’ve done a phenomenal job in supporting all of the changes,” she said. “I also want to shout out to my guidance counselors, Wanda Bermudez and Michael Erickson, for continuing to support parents and students throughout all of these changes. I want to shout out our band director, Rusty Carter, for creatively finding ways to continue holding band classes. I want to give a shout out to Jhoni Hale, our education technologist, for supporting both in-person and virtual learning, and our school nurse, Tracey Thomas, who has been invaluable with communicating community health guidelines. Lastly, I want to shout out Sherri Gowker, our ordering clerk, who has made sure we have all of the materials we need for our students and teachers.”
Fort Campbell High School
At Fort Campbell High School, principal Thomas Whittle said their successful return to in-person learning is linked to the students and staff, and their brave adaptability to a new learning environment.
“If I could praise our success, it would be to the students and their response to the new environment we are in,” Whittle said. “I’d also praise the teachers and staff and the adjustments they have made, as well as the support from our Fort Campbell command group. The support has been astronomical.”
The dedication to academic excellence has been as strong as ever for students and staff, despite the challenges they had to overcome, he said.
“We did a lot of walking the school itself,” Whittle said. “We wanted to come up with an idea that would be safe following DoDEA guidelines and community guidelines, so we walked the school as if we were in a student’s shoes. We rang the bells to see how long it would take to travel from one side of the school to the other. We also redesigned the lunchroom so students would have social distancing and be able to eat lunch without their masks.”
The school staff has also worked closely with parents, virtually, to include them in decision-making to create a better school environment, he said. They’ve since moved the back parking lot into the bus loading and unloading zone, with students entering through the front of the school.
“We will resume some after-school clubs this week, and we will also start using the late buses for students who stay after school for activities this week as well,” Whittle said. “We’re looking at restarting the after-school tutoring program soon as well. Virtual learners will be able to participate in these activities as well.”
He is thankful to the Fort Campbell administrative team, the other principals and staff at Fort Campbell schools, as well as his team for their support and communication during this time.
“They’ve all been great in putting in the extra hours to make sure our students and faculty are safe,” Whittle said.
BY EMILY LAFORME, ARMY