Colleen Civiletto is a fourth grade teacher at Trumansburg Elementary School. She has taught at this level for 25 years and had to make big changes in her classroom because of COVID 19. Normally, she would have 19 to 21 children in her care, but this year she has 11.
Every morning begins with a temperature check and the completion of an online CMC survey before Civiletto packs her mask and leaves the house for school. Children begin to arrive at 7:45 a.m. Temperatures are taken at the door and the kids immediately wash their hands. If a child has forgotten his mask, a disposable one is provided. Desks are 6 feet apart and everything is individualized. Desks contain books and materials and a plastic bin on the floor has supplies. Yoga mats are used to self-distance when playing games, reading, or listening to stories.
Once the kids are settled, Civiletto begins the “new normal” day with a morning meeting and math class. “I like to do collaborative activities with the kids and that is no longer allowed,” she said. “Students may partner up, but no one wanders about the room.” Math is followed by ELA, specials, lunch and recess. Weather permitting, fourth graders all go out for recess at the same time, but must go to different parts of the playground and cannot share equipment. In the afternoon, Civiletto teaches Response to Intervention (teacher-directed help for math and reading) and science. She teaches science while her partner, Huldah Ilgen, teaches social studies to both classes. The teachers change classrooms, the students do not.
Art and music specials are in blocks of 10 weeks each and teachers come to the classrooms. Physical Education has been outside as much as possible or in the classroom when it rains. Recently, half of the gym was cleared for activity and the PE teachers share the space at different times. Hands are washed between activities or a sanitizer is used. During specials, Civiletto has her PREP time in the cafeteria. When the day is done and she arrives home, the first thing she does is change and wash her clothes and mask.
Breakfast and lunch are free this year for all students and meals are eaten in the classroom. There are six cold lunch choices available which are delivered in individual paper bags. Recently, a hot pizza option was added to Friday lunches. Treska Wright and Kelly Masterson deliver the meals. Students are not allowed to use the classroom library at will, but may sign out two to three books at a time and return the books to quarantine bins. Books may also be ordered online from the school library and are delivered. Civiletto says that teachers have been very creative and are using amazing ways to serve the students’ needs.
Civiletto only teaches in-person classes. She is glad to be doing personal instruction because she feels she is more effective that way. Susan Thomas is the virtual teacher and has 20 students. She is following the curriculum at her own pace and there is a weekly team meeting to make sure the curriculum stays the same. Families have the option to change from virtual to in-person when report cards are issued. Students can change from in-person to virtual at any time.
When the end of the day arrives, students leave at different times depending on how they are going home. Fourth graders with younger siblings leave the class at 2:20 p.m. Kids whose parents are picking them up leave at 2:35 p.m. Children who walk or take the bus are escorted by the teacher to the door at 2:45 p.m. “The school day is the same, but the way we dismiss students cuts into the teaching time,” mentioned Civiletto. After school, Civiletto may meet with her grade level or department, go to a building meeting, or have a virtual faculty meeting.
Civiletto’s classroom looks different than in past years. At first, teachers were not going to be allowed to have their desks because of distancing, but the principal eventually relented. “I don’t know how I would have done it without my desk,” Civiletto remarked. “I have my computer on my desk and my drawers are full of needed supplies. I eat at my desk too.” She had to get rid of all other extra furniture, including her rocking chair where she used to sit and read to the children. Civiletto has a new SmartBoard which she allows the kids to use for class work, keeping handy a container of Clorox wipes to clean the markers. All of the kids have Chromebooks and white boards at their desks. She feels some pressure to make sure her students can use the tools available in case the district has to go to total virtual learning.
“I am a very collaborative teacher and like doing project-based teaching. The kids can’t share equipment and I have to make sure I have enough batteries, bulbs, and wires during science. Math games have to be done separately, but together.” At the start of the year, it was a challenge to keep kids 6 feet apart and remind them to wash their hands long enough. Children are social beings and it was difficult to keep the kids from sharing balls on the playground.
Civiletto has found some new changes to be positive. “COVID has forced us to look at things differently and some of the changes are good. Recently, we had Fire Prevention Day and, with fewer kids, we got to walk around the fire trucks and talk to the firemen. I have been able to check out technology tools that I would have never discovered. I have gotten to know all of my students intimately. During lunch, we talk about everything and I get to know their lives. With smaller classes, I can give individual help and no one hides. I developed a dice game that was really successful and I intend to keep playing it when COVID is over. If students are quarantined or just out of school, it is easier to catch them up when they return. Children are resilient and really engaged with in-person learning.”
Civiletto is enjoying personal teaching and looking forward to the upcoming virtual parent-teacher conferences. She would like to go back to 100 percent in-person teaching. “Right now,” she explained, “we can’t let kids be around each other and interact, build something together. It is a skill to work with each other and socialize and I hope we don’t lose that. I want to be mask-free again. But … I would like to keep the smaller classes though.”