BOCA RATON, Fla. — Tens of thousands of Palm Beach County students will head back to brick-and-mortar schools on Monday, but some may still have a hard time visualizing what that will be like.
That's why Principal Allison Castellano at Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton and her administrators put together a 10-minute video to show parents what school will look like when students return to in-classroom instruction.
"We’ve been working really hard to make sure we are ready for students," Castellano said.
The video showcases everything from social distancing protocols, one-way hallways, one-sided cafeteria tables, and hand sanitizer stations all over campus.
"It's been a huge undertaking, but I’m a planner and a preparer and as soon as we got word, we started working together," Castellano said.
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Back To School
Castellano said about 30% of her more then 2,000 students are expected back on campus Monday, including her own daughter.
"As far as being a benefit of being an older school, our classrooms are actually pretty large here," Castellano said. "We were built way before class size mandates and that sort of thing came into place."
Castellano said the school doesn't expect to use overflow space for students now, but that could change.
Arrows mark traffic patterns in hallways, and staff members have customized safety plans that are specific for this campus.
"I appreciate that the superintendent gives me ability to run my school the way I need to run it to keep it safe," Castellano said.
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Castellano said it's been a team effort.
"What we did here is we just went building by building and took one of our smaller buildings first and looked at some set ups there, and went over to a science lab and looked here and waited over the weekend and came back, and we had a totally different idea about the best way to arrange those classrooms for social distancing," Castellano said. "It took a lot of people with different types of brains coming together to think about what would be best, and sometimes you don’t see something but a member of your team does or a teacher comes back and says, well, what if we did it this way? This would give me more room to teach."
Castellano said a lot of the students coming to campus next week are freshman, which she said will allow those new students to adjust to the campus in a smaller setting. The principal expects more students to return in the coming weeks.
"In high school it's a lot of, if their friends are coming back and what are their friends doing," Castellano said. "It's, are the cool kids coming back? It’s dependent on, they want to kind of see how it is, kind of like how a party goes where, let someone else go to the party first and see if it is a good party. And if it is we’ll hop on over there."
Castellano wants families to know the staff is ready whenever they are ready to come back, and the plans will continue to evolve.
"Every single day we will have what we call a team huddle and get together and figure out, how did today go? Did it work? Do we need to change how the students come in tomorrow? Do we need to adjust lunchtime? What exactly do we need to do to accommodate more kids coming back each day?" Castellano said.
The principal added that none of her teachers will be teaching remotely on Monday because, in order to accommodate that, the school would've had to make more than 3,000 schedule changes.
"I don’t know what the future will bring, but obviously that presents a challenge because if the students have a choice and they are at school but their teacher is remote, where do those students go?" Castellano said. "So that’s what the challenge would have been, a lot of schedule changes to accommodate that request."
Castellano added the school has plans in place in case a teacher is sick and a substitute is not available.
"We have support staff on call that will be able to, that doesn’t typically serve students, that will be able to go in and cover classes or cover an area if need be safely," Castellano said.
So while these Spanish River Sharks are swimming in unfamiliar waters, Castellano said they are ready.
"It's just a matter of ensuring that no child gets left behind with this," Castellano said.
Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy said roughly 60,000 students are planning to return to brick-and-mortar schools on Monday, while roughly 85,000 will continue distance learning at home.
The superintendent said he expects more students to come back in-person instruction over the next couple of weeks.