Safely Opening schools during the Corona-19 Pandemic

There may only be one logical method where we can safely open schools for children during the Corona-19 virus pandemic.

It is actually rather old-fashioned, but it is amazingly safe. A hundred years ago, public schools were nearly all the same, one-room schoolhouses. There was one schoolmarm and 6 to 10 children, which were often of various Grade levels.

A modern variant of this seems to make wonderful sense. Several small abandoned homes could SEPARATE the children and the Teacher from external disease carriers and even local gangs.

Computers ARE involved, for some subjects (and some Grade levels). A Teacher may not need to Teach some subjects, such as Geography or History or Art, where most of the available information would be provided by computers during "Geography Hour" and "History Hour". The Teacher might be most suited to Teaching English and Spelling and Math (essentially "reading, writing and arithmetic"). The students would still each have their own` personal computers, which might be different for Second Grade Spelling or Seventh Grade Composition, where the Teacher may need to provide very different and very unique personal Lessons for specific children. A School District could distribute the students in a variety of ways, like K-12 or K-6 and 7-12 or K-8 and 9-12. Students who shared similar interests, like in math or science or Nurse/Doctor could benefit socially by being around other students who had similar interests.

This might be much more advantageous to the children. When I Taught Ninth-Grade High School Science, to 150 students in Classes of 35 children, I found it really a problem that a quarter of my students only had Reading Scores of 2.0 (they could only read at Second-Grade level). None of them could understand any of the words of the Ninth-Grade Science textbook and few of them could follow even the pictures in the textbook! In one class, I sometimes found myself teaching toward the one girl who had a 7.0 Reading Score, as she could actually read and understand much of the textbook. Other times, I had to try to Teach toward my 2.0 or 3.0 level students, who had no chance of understanding the High School General Science textbook. One of my girls only had a Reading Score of 0.7 (she could not even read at First-Grade level!)

It seems to me that if I only had 6 to 10 students, of virtually any age or Reading Score level, and we could rely on many modern computer software programs much of the time, they could each call me over to get a clarification of a subject at their own level.

At 9 am, I might take temperature readings of their foreheads, where a student might be sent home if any danger of Corona-19 was present. Every few days, all year, I would take Corona-19 mouth swabs to confirm or deny any virus presence. The students and the Teacher(s) could all be assured of excellent health safety, at all times. And each student would benefit from both computer learning and the personal touch of a very familiar schoolmarm teacher at all times.

I don't think that any other approach has any realistic possibility of both health safety and educational advancement of each student.

In any School District, there are many vacant, small homes which might be used for this purpose.

Modern corporate thinking of schools which have thousands of students could still exist and be maintained, possibly for Shop Class and Music Class so both this "one-room schoolhouse" approach and a more modern "corporate mega-school operation" could simultaneously be operated (in different locations). Individual parents could select from several possibilities for their children.

Each parent could receive a student list and even a Teacher list of the prospective attendees, where they (or the student) could request a change to a different school. For example, a student who was into math could select a school where the Teacher was also math-friendly. Students who hoped to become Nurses or Doctors could select a school that emphasized appropriate classes and students.

Each School District can make many unique decisions. For example, could a District arrange to have a specific one-room schoolhouse which INTENTIONALLY has students who enjoy playing basketball. That school might have a basketball coach as Teacher, where the computers are even more important regarding History and Geography and Math and Science. The idea would be that a full education would be provided, even better than in traditional high schools.

I had taught High School science at Thornridge High School in Dolton, Illinois for four years.

My experience makes me nervous about operating a High School, which has 3500 students and 320 Teachers and 250 Maintenance people in the same giant building. Sure, if absolutely everyone behaved properly, the Medical safety of the occupants might be acceptable. But in 2020, we have watched thousands of young people getting together to party, like on beaches or at giant house parties. Doesn't anyone realize that if and when even ONE person encounters the Corona-19 virus, then very suddenly, THOUSANDS of community residents, including elderly people, may all come down with it. OR, will each School District decide to completely close down for 14 days of quarantine? After a few weeks, will the School Boards decide that they HAVE TO transition to computer-centered home schooling, possibly for years? I have a feeling that after a few such episodes, many School Districts may see the merits in this computer-centered, one-room schoolhouse approach to Public Education.

In the first few days of trying to open schools in late summer 2020, we are already seeing horrific news casts. After just two days of a school in Georgia being open, they are saying that already, they have 900 positive tests of Corona-19 tests. Think about this. How will they ever do Contact Tracing tests, where they will ever know exactly WHO is infected and who will be infected tomorrow. A huge modern school of many thousands of students will simply become an infection source, until they have to close the whole school down for 14 days and probably longer.

In contrast, consider any one of a multitude of one-room-schoolhouses. Each morning, the ONE Teacher checks the forehead temperatures of each of the ten students (and also himself/herself). If ONE student shows a high forehead temperature, or a positive mouth swab, then THAT ONE STUDENT will instantly become The center of Contact Tracing efforts. A few phone calls and every person who has been in that house will be invited for mouth swab tests. On any given day, a total of maybe 50 people (relatives) might have potential Corona-19 danger, and this Immediate Contact Tracing will narrow it down to the half-dozen people who live in that one house. The other students of the one-room-schoolhouse, along with all of their relatives, are pretty certainly clear of Corona-19!

If a same student is noted as positive more than once, then it might be evidence that the student may not safely belong in the School District. Since nearly all of the students would likely wear their mask and observe social distancing, all of those other students in the one-room-schoolhouse can probably have a pretty normal social life while within the one-room-schoolhouse. That is NOT possible with any of the other plans being considered.

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This presentation was first placed on the Internet in July 2020.

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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago