The institution at 1376 Felspar St. has been open in-person, with all the proper health and safety protocols in-place, since September 2020.
“We closed our classes on March 13, 2020, and sent everyone home,” said Meredith Binnie, principal of the K-8 private, parochial school, now in its 74th year in PB. “We were up and running the next week with virtual learning and finished out the school year online. When we came back to school in September it was in-person, and our students are getting good, safe learning.”
Binnie talked about what St. Paul’s did to reopen its school and keep its students safe and healthy during COVID.
“A lot of what we did was driven by the guidelines set forth by the state and county in order for us to get a waiver to reopen,” said Binnie. “They wanted physical distancing with students six-feet apart, so classrooms had to rearrange the desks to provide for maximum spacing. All the desks and chairs are separated, plus each child has their own personal plastic dividers.”
Added Binnie, “The teachers all have large plexiglass shields they can teach behind. Teachers have microphones to amplify their voices. We’ve kept all the kids in nine different classes in stable groups (to decrease possible virus exposure). We limit the number of people on-campus. It’s been very doable.”
Returning to in-class instruction is what families at St. Paul’s wanted.
“We did a parent survey and 95% of parents wanted their kids to return in-person,” Binnie said. “Our nine teachers, one for each grade, were also all on-board.”
Binnie said school parents were cooperative in doing what it took to get their children back in class.
“The most important thing we stressed was that parents needed to be honest in not sending their kids to school sick,” the principal said. “And every morning at drop-off, we screened kids with temperature checks asking how they were feeling.”
During the school day, Binnie said St. Paul’s required three basic things for all of its students.
“They had to wear masks, we kept them in stable groups and they had to be physically distanced,” she said.
And the health protocols St. Paul’s employed to keep its students safe has worked.
“We have had two students test positive since we have been open,” Binnie said. “However, we were able to just send those two classes home for two weeks of virtual learning, and then they returned. No other students or teachers in the classes tested positive during that time and the positive students were asymptomatic.”
Being back in the classroom has proved positive for everyone, concluded Binnie.
“It’s so gratifying for me as a school leader to see how excited the kids are to be at school each day, how it’s really good for them mentally and socially,” she said. “They’re just so happy to be at play at recess with their friends. And we couldn’t do it without our wonderful teachers. They’ve worked so hard to really adapt their teaching styles. And it’s really taken a buy-in, from all the stakeholders, to make it work.”