BEVERLY — One of the first indications that school will be different this year are the 16 orange Home Depot buckets on the floor next to each desk in Julie Sciamanna's second-grade classroom at the North Beverly Elementary School. When it's time for students go outside for learning, they'll load their school supplies into their five-gallon bucket and take it with them.
Outdoor classrooms and orange buckets are among the many changes schools like the North Beverly School are making as they prepare to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. As she provided a tour of the school on Monday to show how the school was getting ready for Wednesday's first day, Principal Erin Brown said, "We've re-imagined pretty much everything."
Beverly Public Schools will begin school Wednesday with a combination of in-person and remote learning. At the elementary schools, students will attend in-person five days a week from 8 a.m. to noon. Brown said teachers and administrators have been meeting all summer to come up with ways to adapt the school environment to the challenges posed by the pandemic.
Some of the changes will be very familiar to anyone who has stepped inside a store over the past six months, like directional arrows on the floor and signs imploring mask-wearing. But those now-standard measures have been infused with the light touch of a teacher guiding a first-grader.
One colorful sign illustrates a variety of ways for students to perform "social distancing greetings," including an air hug, pinky wave, and heart fingers. Art teacher Christa Ayer created a mural showing a pink pig wearing the mask the right way — and several wrong ways. The directional arrows in the corridors are accompanied by tiny footprint stickers so that students keep their distance in line.
Brown said students will not be walking through the building all that often anyway. The "big movement" events of the usual school day, like gym and music, will take place remotely after students are dismissed. There will also be no in-school lunches.
In classrooms, the desks have all been placed more than five feet apart, Brown said. The school has added three classrooms in order to accommodate smaller class sizes. Brown said one new teacher was hired while two specialists have been reassigned to classrooms.
Brown said the school will have about 290 students in all, a drop from the usual number of about 340 because of the students whose families have opted for remote-only learning. Sciamanna's classroom will have 16 students, down from 23 last year.
"We've done a lot of hard work all summer getting ready," Sciamanna said. "The students (who attended a meet-and-greet outside the school last week) are excited, and that's what it's all about, to be in front of kids again."
As for teaching with a mask, Sciamanna said, "I'm pretty loud anyway."
A big part of the new plan will be outdoor learning. The school plans to spread several 30-foot-by-30-foot tarps on the large field in back of the school so classes can be held outside for at least an hour a day in good weather. The district has also ordered tents, Brown said.
Brown said the goal all along has been to get students back into the classroom safely. She said adjustments will continue to be made once school begins and new problems and possibilities are identified.
"We really want the kids back," Brown said. "They need to be back. We need to figure out how to find a safe way to do it."
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.