07-31 Ashland Hula hoops

In Ashland, summer school students play with hula hoops as a way to get fresh air while keeping a healthy distance from one another. (Courtesy photo)

MEREDITH — In a normal summer session, dozens of children at Inter-Lakes Elementary School would be on the playground, throwing around a football or playing basketball.

This year, children are playing individually with hula hoops or jump ropes as they socially distance to limit the chance for transmission of COVID-19.

Coronavirus precautions being taken at summer school, which began face-to-face instruction this week, are a harbinger of things to come when students return in force in September.

The session also serves as a testing ground for virus-prevention procedures.

One pleasant discovery is that the young people appear to be comfortable wearing masks, Principal Michael Bryant said. 

Some of the children’s facial coverings are emblazoned with superhero characters, astronauts, sharks, or little monsters. Bryant sports one with images of tennis shoes. 

They are generally worn on the school bus, in the building and in the classroom.

“There are times for mask breaks or ‘smile breaks’ as we call them and we are getting outside quite a bit, out in the fresh air,” he said.

Families have been encouraged to send the children to school with facial coverings, but there are disposable masks available if someone forgets. Teachers are also wearing masks or a face shield.

“We’re adapting to where our society is right now,” Bryant said. “We are teaching about health and wellness, proper hand washing and using those as lessons in socialization as well.

“Even in a few days, we have been impressed in the way everyone is adapting to the protocols we have in place. The parents have been supportive and adaptable.”

About 80 of the school’s 430 students are attending this summer session.

The young people seem to be having a good time while also improving their reading, writing and math abilities.

Classes are held Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The session concludes Aug. 13.

“The students are so happy to be back at school, even within this setting, and parents have been happy to know that their kids are getting access to school,” Bryant said. 

Camping is the theme for this summer session. Students learn how to set up a tent. Classrooms are called cabins.

“We’ve been getting positive comments that kids are coming home all smiles, talking about what they have done,” Bryant said. “They’ve been out so long, this is a place they want to be.

Alesia Parks, the summer school coordinator, said the children are spread out in the classrooms to afford social distancing. A 6-foot separation is desired.

Each group of children stays with the same teacher. Traffic patterns are set up for entry and exit. There are health screenings.

“And they all have their own supplies in a ziplock bag,” she said. “They don’t share markers and glue sticks.”

Mary Moriarity, who is superintendent of the Ashland and Inter-Lakes school districts, said she finds it heartwarming to see children return to school.

The Ashland Elementary School also has a summer session.

“It is a great opportunity for us to look at our protocols and have a chance to begin them in a smaller setting,” she said.

“The creativity of educators certainly makes some of the protocols very kid friendly,” she said. “Adults are able in a developmentally friendly way to put in place physical and social distancing for kids in a welcoming, creative and positive environment even under these restrictions.”

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