School days: Out with the old, in with the new

Thu, 09/10/2020 - 6:15pm
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The Block Island School may look the same on the outside, but its interior has an entirely new look and feel.

Principal Kristine Monje took The Block Island Times on a tour of the school on Tuesday, Sept. 8, to provide a glimpse into everything that’s being done in order to get the students back into the building by Monday, Sept. 14. (Grades K-8 will return on that date, with high school students returning a week later.)

In the lobby of the building, where students enter at the beginning of the day, the first thing they will do is face a machine that will take their temperature. Students showing any signs of illness will be sent home.

Looking down, they will see arrows that tell the students which direction they can walk in. When they enter their classrooms, their desks will be spaced apart and all nicknacks and other tools will have been eliminated to lower the amount of surface space that is frequently touched.

In the science classroom, desks where experiments are performed are now decorated with brightly colored discs that show where each lab partner has to be seated.

The school had its walk-through by representatives from the Department of Business Regulation also on Tuesday, and Supt. Mike Convery informed the School Committee that it had properly answered 35 out of the 38 questions that needed to be answered in order for school to open. The primary issue that needs to be addressed is airflow, which Convery said the school is addressing, also due to the fact that the teacher’s union also expressed its concern, in the letter, about ventilation. While the school can be properly ventilated in the warmer months, the colder months will pose a problem.

Convery said the school department had already been working with an HVAC consulting firm, and asked that work with that firm be accelerated to address the issues of air flow. A meeting of the building committee was scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 16 to work out these issues. Convery said that 40 box fans, and that air purifiers had been ordered, “so some progress has been made,” he said.

A Zoom meeting with parents, teachers and Dr. Tom Warcup of the Medical Center the week before also helped answer questions about what the students’ days will look like, and what plans there are if a student or teachers becomes symptomatic during the school day.

Another aspect of school life that will look different is sports. The School Committee approved a reduced sports schedule for soccer, which is currently the only sport the state is allowing to be played. Instead of an 18 game season, 2020 will see a six game season comprising three home and three away games. Convery said more games can be added. Each player on the team is allowed two spectators, and the rules on the field will be altered, but coaches are waiting to see what those changes are, said Convery.

While all middle school sports have been cancelled, the School Committee, on Convery’s recommendation, approved an intramural schedule so that students can practice and have scrimmages but no games.

“It’s a great idea,” said School Committee member Jessica Willi.

In other news, the School Committee accepted a couple of resignations and made new hires, including hiring Nurse Practitioner Liz Dyer as the school nurse. Dyer is a former staff member of the Block Island Medical Center.

School guidance counselor Cathrine Giard and food service helper Meg Campbell also submitted resignations, which the committee accepted with regret, and announced that Cindy Normand, a guidance counselor in North Kingstown had been hired.

“She’s going to be great,” said Convery.

The next School Committee meeting is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 21, but the committee made provisions to meet sooner if necessary.