Week in the Life of a Baltimore School Getting Back to Class - The New York Times

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As the school district diverges in response to the pandemic, Baltimore City Public Schools are slowly trying to get students back to the classroom. It is not easy, but neither is distance learning.

Baltimore-Zia Hellman is preparing to welcome kindergarten students back to Walter P. Carter Elementary/Middle School this month, just like any teacher on the first day of school: she makes a fuss in the classroom.

Ms. Herman, 26, hid around the trapezoidal desk, six feet apart, and taped it to the blue box. Annoyed by the flatness of the wall, she fumbled for the plastic partition covering the name tag, and arranged a separate yoga mat to replace the colorful carpet. Each window is opened to provide additional ventilation and cool the air.

"I want to know how they will deal with all these situations," she said with her hands on her hips, scanning the room one last time. "I don't know what I should think, but it feels good."

Ms. Herman is one of approximately thirty-two teachers and staff who have returned to work since November 16, marking the first in-person teaching at Baltimore City Public Schools since March. This city is the first large school district in Maryland,

Step towards one of the highest risk experiments in the history of the American public education system: face-to-face teaching during the pandemic.

Going back to the classroom is not easy. There is no distance learning.

Educators who want to return to students have to obtain conflicting guidance from politicians and public health officials. Before the virus dissipated, some teachers’ unions refused to return to the building and rejected colleagues who dared to break with them. On the other hand, the country’s most vulnerable children have suffered severe academic and social harm due to distance learning experiments. Parents are struggling with their own financial and work struggles, and they are increasingly desperate.

Since September, Ms. Herman has been eager to return to the school building in northeast Baltimore. She also understands the risks.

Ms. Herman said: "I feel a bit like the'Hunger Games'." "I did not volunteer to make a tribute, but was chosen as a tribute. But I want to serve my students here."

At the same time, the superintendents had to face political pressure, parental preference and the pressure of a once-in-a-lifetime public health crisis.

Michael Casserly, executive director of the Metropolitan School Council of the Alliance of Large City Public Schools, said: “Managers have always had to deal with conflicts of interest, but this has never been this kind of life-and-death balance.” Systems across the country. "It is necessary to make interests and decisions change every week, every day, which makes this situation different from any situation faced by public education."

For Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises, it was decided to reopen 27 schools on November 16 to attract about 1,200 academically risky students (such as kindergarten, special education students, and English learners), but Not a choice, but an obligation. She called on the advice of the city’s public health commissioner.

"If I want to stick to the front line, or want to score politically as some people hope, I will choose not to let families who need choices, people who need translation, and refugees who have traveled a long way to get their children to receive education. Family, Ms. Santriss said. "I won't do this. "

As the virus surged in certain areas of the city, Baltimore reduced the number of planned reopening of buildings from 44 to 27. But the local teacher union is

The Ms. Santelises area remains closed until they are considered absolutely safe or the vaccine is widely used. It put pressure on individual teachers not to go back voluntarily.


These tensions are reverberating across the country, and schools there are responding to the epidemic in various ways. After opening early this fall, some schools closed this month, although other universities like Baltimore are now trying to reopen.

"We are not just becoming obstructionists; Diamonté Brown, chairman of the Baltimore Teachers Union, said: "We are preventing the area from putting people's lives at risk. "

In March, when the United States announced the coronavirus outbreak, more than 70,000 schoolchildren left classrooms in Baltimore. Since then, school leaders have focused on temporary measures. They purchased computers and Internet access equipment, sent worksheets to students’ homes, staffed cafeterias and buses, provided meals to the community, and waited for directions from places that never actually came and federal health officials.

But now, as the pandemic threatens the education and prospects of a generation of children, regional leaders are feeling pressure to act alone.

In Washington, D.C., internal test data showed that the number of kindergarten students among second graders who reached the literacy benchmark dropped sharply.

. In Houston, a large number of middle school and high school students failed to pass the first semester.

. Even wealthy, high-performing areas like Fairfax County, Virginia, a suburb of Washington

Of middle school and high school students fail class, especially English learners and students with disabilities – two groups have recently

Found that the distance learning service is not good.

The most shocking statistic is the sharp drop in enrollment rates in all regions of the country.

. For some families who do not have Internet access or whose family life is not conducive to distance learning, public education is out of reach. Some families simply gave up.

When Ms. Herman was in the fourth grade of kindergarten, she understood what it meant to be back in the classroom. She will not be able to see her 92-year-old grandmother. She may be "corona humiliated" by colleagues, family and friends, and these colleagues, family and friends are out of work. She is putting herself in danger.

However, she said: "I am young and I am healthy."

At 9:15 in the morning, each of the six students whose family chose to study face-to-face in the classroom received a temperature check. Two minutes later, a student raised the mask excitedly and showed her its design.

Ms. Herman said to him: "I love your mask, but I think it will be cuter."

At 9:30, all students were allowed to take off their masks and eat snacks on cinnamon toast and applesauce. She said: "The window opened in only 10 minutes."

By 10:30, the matter had been resolved, she was just a teacher. The students are practicing writing letters. By the age of 11, they were preparing to sing "Dale Farmer" and preparing to take a vacation:

Ms. Herman said: "The purpose of the first day is to feed them, have fun, and then send them home." "We need them to come back the next day."

Not only did her six class students return the next day, but 19 of them were actually studying. The principal of the school, Brandon Pinkney, is also showing her classroom to parents who are considering sending their son back to school.

In the 24 hours since the face-to-face class, Mr. Pinkney has accepted the parents' inquiries, and they are very interested in what they see in the classroom through the computer screen of the child at home.

Just in case, he filled the buildings, put his head into different classrooms, and mentally reconfigured the space. He hopes to reserve an extra table for the students. He tells him bluntly that the "virtual things" have been used up, but if the school reopens, he will come back.

"I know he is on the street," Mr. Pinckney said. "If I don't see him this week, I will pick him up."

Many school staff said that they just went back to the building because it was Mr. Pinckney’s voice, telling them that they had been selected.

He promised transparency and support, which was enough for Rachael Charles. She is a special education teacher with two teenage children at home. It is not as easy to convince her as Ms. Hellman. She admits that as a young, childless teacher, she does not face the same choices in life and livelihood.

As the black community is particularly affected by the virus, Ms. Charles, an African American, exercises throughout the summer, just in case, taking vitamins and alkaline water. But she still explores vacation.

She said: "I love my students very much, but when no one takes care of me, I will go back to the classroom to take care of the children."

In addition to safety hazards, Ms. Charles wants to know if she can become a teacher that her students remember. She said: "I am very hands-on. It is difficult to get them within reach and cannot support them in the way they need."

When a student with a slight physical disability struggled to pull down his mask to eat lunch, she initially stood outside his blue box, encouraging him. "Under the chin, you can do it."

But soon, her hand was on his mouth, and she pulled it off herself.

Downstairs, Mr. Pinckney is in the corridor, and a group of clinicians are debating whether to conduct a virtual or face-to-face special education assessment.

He said: "When we have an evaluation room here, it actually makes no sense to virtualize." "They clean every hour every hour."

"Every hour?" A suspicious voice can be heard through the speaker.

"On time", a voice came from nearby.

The voice belongs to school administrator Donice Willis. She is 66 years old and her grandmother is 11 years old. She has never stopped working during the pandemic, and she can’t wait for the children to return to the building.

Update January 29, 2021

The latest news on how the pandemic is reshaping education.

She said she knew she was one of the people at highest risk of coronavirus. She hopes to retire at the age of 70, but she said that she has given up control of that target and hopes that she can protect her from Covid-19.

Ms. Willis said: "You will leave something one day." "If God gives me 70, I will accept it."

When a student without a mask walked out of the classroom that was about to clean the classroom, she hardly flinched: "Put on the mask, novice," she said.

Around the time of dismissal on Wednesday afternoon, November 18, news broke that New York City had reached

, Which will cause another instruction to close in person. The city’s schools have been open for less than two months. Within an hour

The negotiations between the district and union officials broke down.

The teachers in Baltimore wanted to know how their city leaders would react. The positive rate in Maryland is above 6%.

Ms. Santelises stood firm. She said that it is scientifically proven that the transmission rate of schools is still very low. A teacher has sent an email via email, "Keep in touch."

Ms. Herman focused on how her new normal is developing. She is now wearing two masks without reminding students to wear more masks. She wanted to know how face-to-face students waved to face-to-face students. Her only concern is that her distance learners missed the jokes and nonverbal cues of students entering the classroom.

She said: "Today is better." "It feels like this, only three days."

Then perform a reality check. Shortly after 8:30 am on Thursday morning, Mr. Pinckney sent an email to staff stating that someone had reported symptoms similar to Covid and that two classes were sent home for isolation.

"Oh, my goodness," Ms. Heilman said. "It's here."

Mr. Pinckney followed the rules, reminded classmates and staff, and submitted the case to the school district.

Ms. Herman felt defeated.

She said: "​​Covid doesn't care what day it is today." "It doesn't care if there is a shield in front of your face. It doesn't care if you wear a mask for most of the day instead of eating for 10 minutes. Inside."

Baltimore announced that the schools that began to provide on-site teaching that day will resume teaching after Thanksgiving until December 7.

And travel. Some private schools in the area do the same.

The actions of Baltimore private schools during the pandemic dealt a heavy blow to Ms. Santrices. These students obviously have educational advantages, one of them is her daughter. Her two other children attended a closed public charter school.

Ms. Santelises said: "As a mother, I live to be different, and this inequality is shocking." "Every morning I say goodbye to people at the bus stop. I'm observing the difference. I see. When my daughter's face looked at me at home, it was like: "Don't you want to try? "

The new delayed announcement stimulated protests by members of the teachers’ union, and members marched to different buildings, demanding that the school district close the buildings for the rest of the semester. The union said that by this weekend, at least 15 staff had tested positive for the virus.

The head of the union, Ms. Brown, said the school district insulted the teachers who worked around the clock and provided high-quality guidance to students at home.

She said: "Education is not only more important than the teacher standing in front of the students."

On Friday, Ms. Herman still stood in front of the students. At the end of the day, she helped a student draw something he wanted to thank. A week later, she didn't think much about getting over the student's blue box.

Outside, when the students play together while waiting for their parents, the direction becomes easier: "You can take off the mask, but don't get too close," Ms. Hellman said.

Sharrea Brown hugs her 5-year-old daughter Paige Myers. For a week, Ms. Brown kept watching Peppa's mood improve. At home, a frustrated child will yell "You are not my teacher!" when she tries to help.

Page said she was worried about this "harmful bacteria", so she sent a message to other children who wanted to return to school: "Put on a mask."

Ms. Brown hopes to restore some normalcy after school starts. She took a vacation from work in March, and her unemployment rate has been rising until now.

Ms. Brown said: "Christmas doesn't look great." "But she is fine," she said to her daughter. "She almost returned to how she felt."

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