Education in a Pandemic: How Pickens Co. classrooms are set up to keep students safe

Liberty Primary principal Jessica Patterson said they've pushed unnecessary furniture to the edges of the room so they can fit in as many students as possible. (Aug. 20, 2020 / FOX Carolina) 

LIBERTY, SC (FOX Carolina) -- As students in Pickens County head back to school, the focus isn’t keeping students apart but rather keeping them in groups.

“We don’t want them to be scared. We don’t want them to feel institutionalized. We want them to feel loved and safe," said Liberty Primary principal Jessica Patterson. 

It's a technique called cohorting, which Patterson said is more feasible than social distancing.  

At Liberty Primary, kindergartners will sanitize every morning then pick their seat, either at a desk or on the floor.

"We want them to still be able to move and feel comfortable," Patterson said.

Teachers are required to take at least three recess breaks a day to allow staff time to sanitize.

"Children are children and they’re going to come within three feet or six feet of each other. We just have to give them gentle reminders and set up opportunities for them to distance," Patterson said. "We’ve pushed everything against the wall to allow for that expansion.”

Classroom at Liberty Middle School

Liberty Middle School principal Dr. Lisa Cassidy said they have marked each desk's spot on the floor to make sure students keep them six feet apart. (Aug. 19, 2020 / FOX Carolina) 

But at Liberty Middle, rooms are a little more bare.

(lisa cassidy) “You wouldn’t know this was an English classroom because we had to move everything out to provide the room for the students," said principal Dr. Lisa Cassidy. 

A typical room holds 20 students with desks spaced six feet apart, which is 10 fewer than usual. 

Cassidy said their biggest challenge is keeping the students apart.

“You can’t hug your best friend ... You really don’t need to touch the wall as you go down the hallway. Those types of things are going to be hard," she said.

Schedules have built in hygiene breaks and outside time, but students won’t change rooms for classes and lunch is in their rooms.

"That’s huge for middle schoolers and not being able to do that is disappointing," Cassidy said.

Liberty High School Hallway

Liberty High School principal Josh Oxendine has set up hallways so foot traffic will flow in one direction as students change classes. (Aug. 19, 2020 / FOX Carolina)

Only high schoolers will switch classes in Pickens County. Liberty High School principal Josh Oxendine has taped off lanes and put up makeshift roundabouts to help students distance in the hallways.

“What we tried to design here was a traffic flow pattern so everybody was going in the same direction," he said.

Students have four classes instead of eight this year. 

“We just reduced immediately how many different cohorts a child will be," Oxendine said. 

Oxendine is already looking ahead to what classrooms could look like in better conditions. Staff set up one English room with 28 desks spaced four feet apart, but Oxendine said they aren't comfortable with that setup yet.

"I’m not OK with a crowd this big," he said.

For now, Oxendine is just happy to have his students back after nearly six months.

“I want to see every student and that’s our big driving force right now," he said.

Pickens County students return to class on Aug. 24. 

Copyright 2020 FOX Carolina (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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