By Joanna Terry
COVID-19 has had an incredible impact on schools of every grade, size, and location. From last year’s quick transition to virtual learning to a cautiously optimistic return to the classroom for the 2021-22 academic year, there are new obstacles to overcome as we learn more about the pandemic.
Classrooms face some of the biggest challenges for preventing spread and it’s adding a lot of stress for teachers and administrators, as well as students and their families. It’s no surprise that all the changes due to the pandemic have left nearly half of Americans (48%) feeling more stressed and anxious, 47% experiencing worsened sleeping habits, and 29% feeling like they don’t have a healthy work-life balance, according to a 2021 Kelton Global ‘Wellness at Work’ Study on behalf of my company, National Business Furniture (NBF).
It’s important to be aware of how students and teachers feel in their new learning environments. As you plan out your facility and navigate your institution’s guidelines, think about ways that you can incorporate wellness into the school day for both students and staff alike.
Each school may differ in their masking and distancing guidelines, however kids will always be kids. Elementary classrooms offer so many points of engagement with both supplies and other students. Until it’s safe, it’s best to discourage these tendencies, but it doesn’t have to take away from the joy of the little learners’ spaces.
- Use bright, fun colors to illustrate students’ space between desks by using tape or removable vinyl that can be taken off at the end of the year. Find ways to coordinate these colors into lessons or personal time, such as using specific colors to designate sections of kids across the room.
- Avoid using communal bins of crayons, markers, and other school supplies. Instead, consider small bins for individual storage that can be kept at students’ desks. Store them in a small cubby area and let students pick up their items in small groups without worrying about cross-contamination.
- Enhance the energy of your space, going beyond the already lively decorations of younger classrooms. Use lamps with bright daylight bulbs in addition to often drab fluorescent lighting and take advantage of temporary wallpaper to add more color to the walls.
Middle & High School Classrooms
Once you’ve hit secondary education, kids have a better grasp on following the rules. At this point, you’ll want to work on optimizing how students interact with your existing space to ensure that it doesn’t cause confusion and impact student performance.
- Control the flow throughout aisles of desks by using floor-mounted decals that show what direction students should be walking in. Tape can be a great alternative to prefab decals and can be used to illustrate spacing and aisle widths as well.
- Science and STEM layouts often rely on configurations that are two students per-table. Since class sizes haven’t decreased, seek out additional desks that might not be in use and try to place those in the perimeter of the class. Keep each workstation limited to one student per-table or desk.
- Try to make these wayfinding guides and any informational signage less daunting and more integrated into students’ day-to-day. A lot of commercial decals and supplies can have aggressive color schemes and iconography. Personalize as much as you can to make students feel at ease at any grade level.
- Incorporate reusable workstations that can be easily cleaned such as white board tables and large white boards for classroom instruction. They can be easily and quickly sanitized after use.
- Look for easy-to-clean classroom furniture. Avoid upholstery and use synthetic materials — as fabrics are one of the most porous materials, even when treated with antimicrobial coatings. Vinyl offers a durable and cleanable option.
From campus to campus, building to building, and room to room, it’s rare that college classrooms have the same layout. On a facility level, set up spaces to support healthy distancing in a way that can’t be circumvented by instructors who are in and out of spaces.
- It’s likely that you’ve already blocked off seating in larger lecture halls or rooms that have immovable seating. Crude solutions like a masking tape “X” can seem impermanent and careless. Seek out quality materials to secure spaced seats, such as nylon ropes or zip ties that keep fold-down seats in an upright position and unable to use.
- Stay stocked up on cleaning and sanitizing supplies in each classroom. With a high turnover of both students and staff, communicating easy-to-follow clean up policies is just as necessary as it is to provide the tools to keep each classroom clean.
- In more relaxed meeting areas, ensure that seating is well-spaced and that physical boundaries are used to discourage moving chairs too close together. End tables, fake plants, and small bookcases can create immovable partitions that encourage proper spacing.
In any educational space from kindergarten to university, administrative spaces have needs that aren’t unlike traditional offices. Administrators and teachers have had a particularly rough time and the start of the 2021 school year has made it necessary to provide a wellness-focused space in these behind-the-scenes areas.
- Refresh offices and teachers lounges in subtle ways that won’t break the bank, such as refreshing paint colors. Pastels are a safe and effective choice, such as a light blue, purple, orange, or yellow.
- Ensure that shared offices have enough space between desks and that any meeting tables have clear acrylic partitions that can be placed between students and staff. Due to age restrictions on vaccinations, it is for the good of both parties to ensure that COVID spread is limited as best as possible.
- Make sure that amenities are safe and sanitary. Try to make sure that utensils and cups are single use and that it’s easy to clean any shared appliances in the breakroom. Additional amenities, such as personal bottles of hand sanitizer or masks in your school colors, can make it easy for staff to keep up with their own cleanliness without adding to their financial burden.
Terry, is the director of education space planning at National Business Furniture (NBF). The company’s mission is to help people create environments where great work happens, offering quick shipping options, exclusive products from its NBF Signature Series line, and a lifetime guarantee. NBF also serves the home office, education, healthcare, hospitality, and government markets.