As schools around the country begin to make plans for re-opening, we thought it would be helpful to highlight our own journey as an education providers for K-12 students. In mid-March, we were one of the 1st businesses like ours to completely shutter our operations. For a small business, this was difficult. But, given the alternative of a student or a staff member becoming sick; it became much easier when viewed through the lens.
Similarly, when it looked like Illinois was going to allow businesses like ours to re-open, we wanted to make sure that the health & safety of our staff, students and families was the priority. Click here for more details on the 15 point plan
that guides our operations.
Training & Execution
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” - Mike Tyson
Having a health & safety plan was important. However, we knew that we needed to train our staff on how to execute the plan. So, we took time to go through how to take temperatures, how to put on masks & plastic shields, how to wash hands, how to sanitize/disinfect the hard surfaces, how to put on & take off gloves, how to put on and take off booties, and how to deliver instruction in a socially distanced way.
During our training, we discovered that it’s really hard to talk for extended periods of time while wearing a mask. So, we decided to continue to utilize web-based video conferencing to deliver in person instruction. Although the experience isn’t as rich as prior years, it allows our instructors to teach kids how to build with technology during our in person programs.
Finally, the execution of the plan must be common sense. If there are so many intricate details that the staff can’t keep things straight without the plan in front of them, it will never work.
Teachers/Staff Need to be Supportive
Everyone knows that people are at the heart of any successful endeavor. For us, our instructors are the ones that bring together our education technology to inspire the next generation.
They have previously been used to delivering instruction in our studios pre-COVD-19. Post COVID-19 is very different. In addition, they had quickly gained expertise in teaching online. While the online format is more challenging, there is also a degree of comfort that comes along with being able to work from home.
So, the natural inclination for anyone is to maintain momentum in the online structure. In order to get ahead of this, we asked our staff to join with us in developing the health & safety plan. Instead of the plan being top down from the leadership, they worked closely with us to develop the details based on their understanding of student behavior.
With teacher/staff support, it became much easier to find the early holes in the plan and actively develop solutions to mitigate their concerns.
However, we didn’t stop there. Each week since re-opening, we have gotten together to discuss how our in-studio programs are going & any opportunities or suggestions the team has for improvement.
This has enabled the instructors to help deliver a superior experience through a continuous improvement process.
Parents Need to be Supportive
Similar to schools, we have many different stakeholders. We deliver our service directly to students through our technology classes and camps. However, it is often the parents who are making a decisions about whether or not to patronize our business.
The main concern of every parent is are you going to be able to keep my kid safe, are they going to have fun and will they learn. With this as our guide, we put together our health & safety plan along with how we would modify operations to deliver upon these goals.
To show how these goals can compete with each other, we require parents/guardians to stay outside the studio during drop-off and pick up through our contactless check-in/check-out system. Yet, one of the main ways to demonstrate learning is to see what your child has built during the time they have spent with us.
So, we made sure to have a robust system for students to upload their projects to to their portfolio so that their parents could see what they have done from the comfort of their own homes.
In addition, we share in advance how the check-in / check-out procedures works along with how we rely on their support to make sure that their kids adhere to the health & safety plan.
We have been overwhelmed by the support with many families signing up their kids for multiple weeks of camp.
Expect the Unexpected
Many kids when they join us for the summer will have recently had limited social interaction & contact with peers. As human beings, we are inherently social creatures. Even though students may not have known each other previously, they are quickly becoming fast friends.
When you combine this with multiple weeks of camp attendance, it becomes extremely important to maintain the health & safety plan. In a similar way in schools, students build relationships over the course of the year. As the early butterflies are resolved, kids are going to want to come into closer contact with each other. When they come into closer contact, they are going to fidget with their masks more or start to assume that fellow students don’t have the virus.
Unfortunately, until we have the vaccine, our goal is to continue to minimize all opportunities for community spread. This means requiring hand washing after touching masks and maintaining social distancing even with interacting & engaging with new friends.
As we’ve been re-opened now for a few weeks, that means that our hand washing protocol has resulted in an abnormally high usage of paper towels. So, we’ve become increasingly focused on operations to make sure we are fully stocked with sanitizer, soap, paper towels, wipes and booties to make sure that we have the tools we need to keep everyone safe.
Whenever policies and procedures are changed, there is going to be an adjustment period. It takes time for anyone to settle into something new and different. To help mitigate those concerns, we began sharing our re-opening plans along with our health & safety policy well before we opened.
In many ways, our goal was to create a foundation for how we were going to safely re-open and operate. But, also we knew that we needed support from our parents so that there wouldn’t be any surprises.
Beyond the broad bases emails, we also have daily check-in emails and pre-attendance emails that reinforce our policies. While some may feel this is excessive, we want to make sure that those who are considering attending know how we are planning to operate.
Thus far, it has been great to not only have parents re-iterate their support but to also have students reinforcing safe behavior amongst their peers.
While we are still very early in getting society back to a semblance of normalcy, we believe that there are steps that can be taken to safely service students. Although, it is not easy, with careful planning and execution; parents, students and staff can be protected as best they can until we have a vaccine for this virus.