DELAND, Fla. - Teachers at St. Barnabas Episcopal School transformed desks with plexiglass into mini Jeeps to make students feel more comfortable while social distancing in the classroom.
The DeLand, Florida-based pre-K through eighth-grade school provided teachers with transparent desk shields at the start of the year so students can take off their masks while sitting in class without potentially contracting COVID-19 or infecting others, according to St. Barnabas' website.
First-grade teachers Patricia Dovi and Kim Martin got the idea from a Texas-based educator named Jennifer Pierson, who shared a template for the desk-shield Jeep design on a social media page for teachers.
"The kids were so cute yesterday. One said, 'It looks like your Jeep!'" Dovi, who owns a Jeep Wrangler, told Fox News. "We put keys with their names on the desks, so they were all very excited and wanted to know if [the Jeeps] really work and where to put [the keys] in the ignition."
Martin said the concept of driving a car is helpful in promoting social distancing, as well:
"They are really kind of utilizing the concept of a vehicle for safety rules," she said. "No one else can be inside your car, keep hands inside the vehicle, keep your mask on when you get out of your car. It's a way to make them feel playful rather than imprisoned."
She added that it has been especially hard to tell when kids are engaged and enjoying lessons because she cannot read their faces well when they are wearing masks, and she has learned to read eyes instead.
Both Martin and Dovi expressed gratitude for their colleagues and teachers around the country.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought teachers together in unexpected ways to share inspiring ideas — especially when it comes to using new technology — and make students feel as comfortable as possible, they said.
"This whole slide[show], Bitmoji thing is way over my head," Martin said in reference to a new digital platform that teachers across the country are using to represent their interactive online classrooms.
Dovi said her mother and aunt, who are both retired teachers, helped her make the desk Jeeps before her first day of class. Another former art teacher helped her paint a bulletin board in her room with a Jeep adventure theme.
"Teachers always help teachers, but it’s been magnified this year. There have been quite a few times when we’ve broken down and cried," Dovi said, adding that despite the occasional meltdowns, teaching is "like a sisterhood. Once you’re in, nobody lets you down."
St. Barnabas, along with a number of schools across the country, has adopted a hybrid model in which some students may choose to stay home while others choose to come to class. If a student wishes to switch from online to in-person classes, they may do so at a designated date.
Many states are reopening schools on a county-by-county level. Florida's commissioner of education signed an executive order in early July to reopen physical classrooms in August despite a spike in COVID-19 cases in the state at the time.
The state's test positivity rate has been under 10 percent for two days.
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