What will schools look like when students finally return to campus? This is a question both parents and educators are asking.
- 6’ separation between students
- Limit of 10 people per room
- Repurposing of existing spaces
- Multiple entry points for students
The typical design of a classroom has not changed dramatically in fifty years. Classes have transitioned to remote learning thanks in large part to our clever teachers and to the technology to support them. There is no doubt that they will be as eager to return to the classroom as the student will be. The next challenge will be to plan exactly how our students will return and how our schools will have to change to accommodate the new social distancing guidelines.
Plan Now for Change
Schools will need to study their spaces and determine how to maximize their existing classrooms with fewer students in each. This will likely require additional classroom spaces or the conversion of other spaces into classrooms. These new classrooms will function differently and will need to be carefully planned.
Most classrooms were designed to accommodate about 20 students in 900 SF of space. When students return, they will have to maintain 6’ separation from each other. Since it will be impossible to make our classrooms bigger, schools will have to split their classes into smaller groups and find other space in order to accommodate the same number of students.
The traditional practice of students leaving their homerooms, walking the halls, and collecting in subject-specific classrooms will likely be replaced with a new practice of students staying in one place and teachers moving to them. Students will occupy their homeroom all year, exposing themselves to a very limited number of people outside of their home.
Large gatherings will be limited, so school meetings with many students will have to happen in a different way. Classrooms will still need to utilize remote access as a means to attend larger school gatherings or to combine class lessons. Meals will be taken in the homerooms, delivered by staff to each door.
Arrival and Dismissal
Even student arrival and dismissal will be different. Classrooms with individual exterior doors are ideal for this purpose. Otherwise, students will be directed to the door that leads most directly to their classroom and mixes the least with their fellow students. These routes will be one way to limit passing other people in the hallways. Times may be staggered to further prevent social mingling.
Social Distancing = More Space
So how much space will a school need? It is a safe assumption that a classroom with 18 students before the pandemic will now accommodate only 9 students with one teacher. Those 9 students will need an area of about 18’ x 18’ in order to maintain 6’ separation. Using that area as the new criteria, any room with an area of 18’ x 18’ is a candidate for a homeroom. An existing art room, science room, dedicated language room, and other auxiliary room can serve as a homeroom. Schools without individual rooms such as these will have to consider repurposing their gymnasiums, dining halls, and libraries.
Figuring out the Puzzle
Regardless of their size, each school will have to find their own unique solution to accommodate its students in a safe environment. This is not an easy problem to solve as it involves the fixed limits of the existing rooms and buildings, the diverse educational models of each school, and the many unknowns involved with operating a school during an unprecedented time.