Nome schools are in the green zone
Nome public schools opened for classes in the green last week and by all reports the new way of going to school is working. To be in the low risk green status there has to be 14 days of no community-spread COVID-19 cases and low risk of community spreading. “I would say that we basically had to re-invent school from scratch,” said Superintendent Jamie Burgess. “There are a lot of things that we are still fine tuning after this first week.” Burgess reports the community has been flexible and forgiving and families are pleased their children are able to return to school. “And the kids are definitely happy to be here,” she said. There were no problems with kids wearing masks. “Overall, the first week went well. We’re hoping the next week is better and we get better with some of our new routines.”
Nome Public Schools have not had a single case of the virus among school employees. If one were to come down with the illness it would mean moving their school into the red zone, which means a complete shutdown.
The online school program through a virtual school program called “@Home In Nome” is moving along without problems. “So far so good,” said Burgess. “The first few weeks the families were determining whether this was a good fit with their child. We have a little over 30 students K through 12 who are participating in the program. Some people really do like the format. It’s working well for their children and their families. So, that’s good for us to hear.”
Transportation to school is also working well. At the elementary school, Principal Elizabeth Korenek-Johnson reports very few kids are riding the buses. “The community is doing a great job of keeping bus ridership low,” she said. “That’s been going really well and we support their leadership in that. Nome-Beltz is different because rather than a short trip across town there’s a four-mile ride to the campus.”
Superintendent Burgess says this is the biggest challenge, but they expected it.
“Our elementary school buses are doing OK as far as the capacity we’d like to see, where there’s plenty of room between kids,” she said. “For the families that live in town and are transporting children to the other end of town it’s a lot more feasible than driving four miles out to the Nome-Beltz complex. So, we’re seeing more students on those buses.” The administration will encourage other options such as carpooling within the bubble or students driving to school. “It’s a higher risk situation for kids to be on the buses if we can’t distance them out.” Behavior by students on the buses has been excellent, according to Korenek-Johnson and Burgess.
Principal Korenek-Johnson reports the elementary school parents have been patient about the health screenings in the morning and carpooling in the afternoon. “I think they recognize that we have the kids’ and the community’s interest in mind as we work through these routines,” she said. The temperature screenings took a lot of time the first day but with every day, it went faster. By Friday nobody was late for class because of the screening. The screenings are for temperature, measured with a quick-scan electronic device with reads off the student’s forehead. If the reading is 100°F or higher the student is sent to a second screening where they get an oral thermometer reading. They are also asked a series of questions. They’re asked about chills, fever, cough, tummy aches or sore throats. They’re asked if they’ve been around anybody who has the virus in the past two weeks. The second screening level deals with children who answer yes to any of the questions.
In the afternoon kids wait in designated areas so they don’t exit the building in big groups or congregate once out the door. It was a challenge at first to get kids sorted out but that’s now going faster as everyone becomes familiar with the routine. “Staff who know the families and the kids cut the time down because they’re familiar with everybody,” said Mrs. Korenek-Johnson. “Our staff knows all the second graders really well but we haven’t learned all the kindergartners’ names yet. As we get to know those kids’ names better that will get faster too.”
“I think parents are being very understanding and patient and they appreciate that we’re working hard for their kids so we can keep school open,” she said. “And we’ve gotten positive feedback in that regard.”
“We can’t do this alone,” said Superintendent Jamie Burgess. “Our community and our community’s choices are really going to dictate how long we keep kids in school. We’re doing everything we can and hope that our community will continue wearing the masks and social distancing, keeping their circles small and following the quarantine rules if they do have to travel. The virus will get here from folks travelling outside the community.”