ALBANY – The twinkle in the eyes of students and parents left no doubt that there were smiles under the mandatory facial coverings as Sherwood Christian Academy opened for in-person education on Friday.
“We are excited for the opportunity of our children to come to school and be with their friends and get their education,” said Stacie Southwell, a mother of two students attending classes at Sherwood. “We are very prayerful that everything is going to be fine.”
Southwell’s husband, Keith, added, “The school has taken a lot of measures to keep the kids safe: installed a filtration system, they have mask rules in place and are practicing social distancing. So, we feel comfortable with the opportunity they are providing.”
While the students were taking advantage of the distance learning opportunities at the close of school last year, the administration at Sherwood was making plans and changes to ensure the safety of students upon their return to the campus this year.
One of the major changes was the installation of a Guardian Air Reme Halo Air Purification System, which continuously eliminates impurities, allergens and contaminants from the air circulating in the buildings on campus. This, combined with increased hand-washing and building cleaning procedures, is aimed at creating the cleanest and most germ-free environment possible, officials at the school said.
In consultation with Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, two infrared cameras were installed to allow accurate and efficient temperature scanning of students, staff and visitors. Two temperature checks will be undertaken daily: one upon arrival on campus and the other before lunch. Teachers also will have access to handheld touchless thermometers. Parents are urged to keep any student running a temperature at home.
A student nurse has been hired to manage the health of students and staff as well as lead the infectious disease response plan if needed. All illnesses will be addressed through the school nurse following Department of Public Health guidelines.
During Friday’s opening day, all children, staff and parents were wearing masks. Masks will be required for all students and staff while on campus. While sitting at their desk students may remove their masks. However, any other time they are in common areas, masks must be worn.
Student Zones have been established, and upperclassmen will attend class at the Youth Building at Sherwood Baptist Church. This reduction in student population on campus allows for reduced class sizes. Students will occupy several “zones,” broken down by grade level, with each zone having its own restrooms in an effort to reduce overall student interaction.
Frequent hand-washing will be encouraged at multiple stations scattered throughout the campus. Water fountains have been shut down, and students are encouraged to bring their own bottled water from home. Media Center use will be limited to small numbers at any given time.
The school will provide a hot lunch, with lower elementary students eating in their classrooms. Other grades will eat in the cafeteria, with each zone having its own time slot. Additional safety measures have been added to the kitchen and cafeteria serving lines.
“We are going to offer as much as we can to stay in safety guidelines,” Sherwood Marketing Director Michelle Mattox said Friday. “Our athletic office and fine arts teachers will be releasing these guidelines and policies at a later time.”
Parents expressed confidence Friday that their children are in a safe environment.
“Research shows that most kids get a mild case (of the coronavirus), if anything,” parent Janet Dapper said. “So I knew how important it was for the kids to be back in their normal routine and be back in school. I know they learn better when they are in a classroom environment with their peers; it encourages them. We did a great job with distance learning last year, but I am so thankful that this administration did whatever was possible to open the campus. They put in so many safety precautions, more even than I would have wanted. So I have no worries, and I’m so excited about this school year.
“I want them to enjoy this year. This is so important for the seniors. They worked their way up to this position of leadership, and they want to influence the younger kids. They can’t do that from home. They came out today to welcome the younger students back. This is huge for the seniors this year.”
Ashley Dapper echoed her mother’s sentiments.
“I’m so grateful that we get be here,” the senior said. “My school did a wonderful job with on-line learning. I was appreciative we got to do that. But to be here with everyone, even if we are 6 feet apart, I still get to see their face. I’m so excited to be here because I love my school so much.”