Somewhere, back in the time machine of March, just about everything closed down, except hospitals and the medical profession, including schools, which are a lifeline for so many of our families. All of a sudden, questions about how to keep learning, meals, child-care, access to technology and health care in the schools were shut down at the speed of light it seemed. And having no experience with a pandemic, the answers were hard to define.
Fast forward to the reopening of schools. During the time that they were closed, there was lots of progress behind the scenes to be ready for that hypothetical date in the future when it was “safe” to be in contact with peers, teachers, busses and most important, the learning that was postponed. Tarot cards and crystal balls couldn’t discern that date. Necessary food for our students was not postponed. Our CCPS cafeteria staff members prepared “Grab and Go” breakfasts and lunches for students on “free or reduced meals” so parents/guardians could drive through a car line safely to pick up their students’ breakfast and lunch meals at one time. The cafeteria staff greeted the families with gloves and masks; behind the masks were big smiles as they could wave to the students that previously engaged with them face to face in the schools’ food lines.
Maintenance crews started working on the improvements that schools needed, some of which were out in the blazing summer sun with little shade. There were playgrounds that were created or refurbished at the elementary level and football and track fields at the high schools, painting of classrooms and installations of plexiglass shields in the front offices to name a few. The “fix-it and remodel” list began to shrink. Not one to let the grass grow under his feet, Mark Rouleau, Executive Director of Facilities, made sure that all requests were addressed in a timely manner without knowing when schools would open, but taking advantage of every day without students, teachers and staff to accomplish miracles.
Two schools, Herbert Cambridge Elementary School and Lavern Gaynor Elementary School, because of the name change of the schools, voted on new mascots with the students before COVID-19 became a serious threat. The administrators and teachers were enthusiastic about changing the mascots, colors, signage to represent their new identity. With new paint, bulletin boards, remodels of school entrances and the students were excited to see the changes in the cafeterias when the doors reopened to in-person learning.
Lely High School had a well-used ticket booth as you enter the football stadium and sports area, which was an embarrassment to the staff and players. Some time ago, a group got together and started to build a new one, and then CCPS stepped in to help them finish. On Friday, October 16th, there was a ceremony at LHS for the big reveal. The ticket booth was covered with a tarp so the BIG REVEAL was truly great. County Commissioner Donna Fiala was there along with many parent supporters of the school, students and administration from CCPS. A small band played and the cheerleaders lent spirit as the crowd cheered for the ribbon-cutting as Principal Ellen Keegan, Assistant Principals Rhoderica Washington and Israel Lopez, Activities Director Bill Mottola, and Facility Manager Brian Neely were all on hand to celebrate along with a small band and cheerleaders.
Regarding the schools, the administrative teams have worked so hard to keep their staff and students safe. The students are amazing; they follow the guidelines, use sanitizer, have water in their personal bottles, wear their masks and interact with their teachers and each other as though this was the new normal! Oh, yeah, it is!
They space themselves in the hallways and in the classroom, follow directions, and are respectful of each other. The ones I talked to were so happy to be back with their friends. I asked, “Are you scared about being in school?”
Every one of them said, “No!” They reasoned that their class is a family and you follow the rules to protect each other.
Couldn’t have said it better myself.