No lockers, lunch trays or high fives: How school looks different amid the pandemic

Wearing a face mask and staying six feet apart from others are some expectations at U.S. schools that offer in-person classes in the coronavirus pandemic. But some schools are going the extra mile to keep students safe, including introducing new forms of communication and learning layouts. Here are a few school guidelines that make learning look different this year.

Gyms are classrooms.

When Saint Mark Catholic Academy in Brooklyn, N.Y. opens with a staggered schedule for its fifth through eighth-grade students on Sept. 9, children will sit for lessons in the gym, not in a traditional classroom. The area will be divided into two makeshift classrooms with space out desks. “We are using the gym because the typical classrooms do not allow for appropriate social distancing at these grade levels,” principal Mark Wilson tells Yahoo Life. “Other grade levels have smaller class sizes, so they can socially distance in their classrooms. The space in our gym allows for students to be seated even more than six feet apart.

He adds: “We also have to utilize multiple entrance and exits into the school. The gym has its own entrance, which also makes it an ideal setting.”

While Wilson can’t speak for the success of the setup just yet, he hopes that students “will speak at an appropriate volume so both classes can be conducted effectively.”

High fives are discouraged.

Alanna Allen, a fifth-grade teacher at Paramount Charter Academy in Kalamazoo, Mich., had her students promise to “keep my hands, feet, and objects to myself,” according to WXMI on Tuesday. “It’s just something natural to go and hug a kindergartener on their first day of school or high-five a middle schooler,” Principal Christine Welc told the news station, “and so it’s trying new things like an air high five.”

And because face masks make communication trickier, students are expressing themselves in new ways. At Jefferson Elementary School in Manitowoc, Wis., students are learning to smile with their eyes. Principal Courtney DeArmond tells Yahoo Life that she taught her students to emote this way when taking new class photos. “I told them, ‘Smile so I can see the twinkle in your eyes,” she says. “It’s a new experience for kids to show emotions with a mask.”

Cafeteria lunch trays are gone.

At Charleston County School District in Charleston, South Carolina, students entering the lunchroom grab plastic bags, not lunch trays, before getting in line for packaged food, per an Aug. 6 video the district shared on YouTube. And at Frenship Independent School District in Wolfforth, Texas, “grab and go” meals replace trays to save space.

Playgrounds are closed.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention only recommends cleaning play structures made with plastic and metal, not disinfecting them, some schools, like Jefferson Elementary School, made playgrounds off-limits to prevent crowding. DeArmond tells Yahoo Life that two campus playgrounds are closed. During recess, kids in their respective cohorts can run around and use designated balls and other equipment, but play structures with slides and climbing pads are “off-limits.”

Lockers and water fountains are no longer used.

Charles Page, the principal of General Sherman Junior High School in Lancaster, Ohio told the Lancaster Eagle-Gazette that to clear hallways of congestion, students cannot use their lockers; instead, they carry their books from class to class in bags. And though water fountains are covered to deter use, Page told the outlet that students can bring clear water bottles to refill at contact-free filling stations.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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