On September 2, the Basin School will welcome as many as 22 kids back to class. They’ll return to an intimate place: The 126-year-old building has just two classrooms, one for kindergarten through third grade, and the other for fourth through sixth graders.
Stephanie Listoe, the school’s supervising teacher, will be waiting for them. She has been waiting, in fact, since March 13, when the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly forced instruction online.
Back then, like many teachers, Listoe had three days to adjust to a radically changed reality. This time, she has all summer. But there are at least as many unknowns: What course will the coronavirus take, and how might the state respond with more, or fewer, restrictions? How might kids and their parents react?
That’s a lot of complexity and ambiguity for someone just in her fourth year of teaching. (She graduated from Jefferson High in 2013.) Listoe spoke with The Monitor on July 23 about how she’s preparing. The interview has been edited for clarity.
How will things be different on September 2?
For one thing, we’ll probably have staggered starting times. I’m looking at bringing the older grades in first, so we’d start with the sixth grade. I’ll do symptoms screening outside the school building: A temperature check, and then a couple of questions, like asking if they’ve been coughing. And we’ll probably have a para-professional on playground, looking after kids while they’re waiting to get screened.
How will you manage social distancing?
In the past we have always used flexible seating; the kids get to pick their seats, including on a sofa. That will change: We’ll have assigned seating, and we’re going to have to get rid of all our soft seats, because they’re really hard to keep clean. We have 3-inch dots to stick to the carpet, so the kids are reminded to stay six feet apart.
Will they pay attention to that?
Your guess is as good as mine! I have a feeling the younger kids will be better at it. I love teaching, and I love all the kids. But the younger kids, they take you a little more seriously.
And you’ll have to keep the school clean.
That will be more intense. When the kids go out to recess or aren’t in the classroom, any opportunity we have to wipe down all the hard surfaces, we’ll do that. We have a custodian who comes in after school every day to clean, and there’s a strict checklist on what he cleans. We’re having to change the cleaner we use; the one we’ve used isn’t on the CDC suggested list. And we’ve ordered three hand sanitizer stations.
The school decided not to require masks. Why not?
That was just about making the school environment as safe and normal as possible. In our small community, having so few kids in the classroom, and with social distancing, I don’t know that masks are the best option. The masks make me uncomfortable, so I can’t imagine them for the kids. If we can avoid it and still keep the kids healthy, I’m happier with that. Though I may put on a mask if I have to be closer to a student.
How will your instruction change?
This is such a small school, you get to know the kids very well. Normally, it’s so nice to be able to sit next to your students. Now that’s frowned upon. So, I think I’ll be able to teach the same things, but the way I do it may change. I’ll feel my way into that.
Have you heard from parents? What are they thinking?
Parents appreciate that we’re making the effort to have students back in school and make it as safe as possible. The spring was hard for them – and their kids. We didn’t really have any warning, and kids depend so much on consistency and a schedule and their whole lives were uprooted. You think kids don’t want to come to school, but I’ve had kids call me this summer and say, “We can’t wait to come back to school and see you!”
What are you most concerned about?
There are a lot of things keeping me up at night! I’m still a fairly new teacher. There’s a lot to work through, and a lot of things I don’t know how it’s going to work until I do it.
My biggest thing is that the kids come and feel safe, that they’re in a happy, enjoyable place. I worry that with all these restrictions, things we can and can’t do, maybe it won’t feel like a safe place anymore.
How can you manage that?
I think I have to be honest with my students, don’t try to pretend there’s nothing wrong, and let them know that everything we’re doing is for them. And continue caring — but at a safe distance.
Do you feel safe?
I feel safe. I feel like the school is doing everything it can. My priority is the kids and their safety and mental health.
Are you looking forward to this?
I’m really excited to be back in school, and to have my kids back.