A look inside Spokane schools as they get ready for the upcoming year

SPOKANE, Wash. – In eight days, thousands of kids will be walking school hallways again. They’re starting their third school year in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It didn’t feel like school last year in a lot of ways,” said Adam Oakley, the principal of Longfellow Elementary.

Students get to enjoy a more normal school year this time around. Kids will be back in class five days a week again, in person.

“I’m excited. It’ll be really cool to get kids back and get to be back together,” said Chris Dunn, the principal of Shadle Park High School.

Learning during a pandemic still has its challenges and restrictions. One thing that’s different this year: seating arrangements.

“Last year was really hard on us because we had six feet of social distance as a requirement. Kids all had to be facing the same direction, so when you walk into a kindergarten classroom, you saw rows and that’s just not what we know is best for kids,” Oakley said.

Students couldn’t share last year, either. They had to have their own materials on their desk. That’s not the case this year.

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“When you walk into a classroom this year, you’ll see in kids in groups and you’ll see kids taking turns with glue sticks and sharing scissors. Those are the things that, the skills that are learned in school, and getting along with others is really important,” Oakley said.

During recess this year, kids will also get to play with students in other classrooms instead of just those in their class. Last year, they had to have one grade level go to recess, which meant there’d be about 60 students outside, according to Oakley.

Oakley says he had to plan a lot last year, needing to figure out what doors students had to walk through for recess and which playground equipment they could use for the day.

“We were having to come up with a schedule where kids had to be on the big toy today and tomorrow they got to be out on the field and play soccer, and the next on the blacktop to play basketball and wall-ball and do all those things. Now, a kid, if they want to play basketball every day, great,” Oakley said.

Hallways will go back to what kids were used to. While it’s easier to control students walking the halls in elementary schools, for middle and high schools it could get a little tricky.

Last year, high schoolers had to stay on one side of each hallway during passing periods, but Dunn says it won’t be as “stringent” this year. Staff will be monitoring students, making sure they can social distance “to the greatest extent possible.” This is the same thought with distancing students in high school classrooms.

“Maximizing social distancing is our goal and that’s one piece where our custodians have gone through and try to set up the desks three feet apart, or more, if possible,” Dunn said.

Lunch in high schools was significantly different compared to elementary schools last year. Students had designated numbers and had to sit in chairs six feet apart from others while eating lunch in secondary grade levels.

In elementary schools, students had to eat lunch at their desks. Oakley says that will be the case for Longfellow Elementary. The district says it’s still working on guidance for some other schools and hopes to update that information by the end of the week.

A few other changes this upcoming school year: health checks will not be required, lockers will not be used and schools will still sanitize rooms each day. Guidance for classes where kids change rooms every hour is still in the works.

For more information on all the changes, visit Spokane Public Schools frequently asked question page. A district spokesperson says they’ll continue to update it as they finalize details on other guidance.

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