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Elementary teachers get creative with lesson plans, new guidelines

A viral video circulating on the Internet depicts a kindergarten teacher showing how she expects the upcoming school year to go by enforcing 5- and 6-year-olds to wear a mask.

Generating millions of views on TikTok, Facebook and Instagram, the video shows students waiving masks above their heads, wearing one like a hat, over their eyes and taunting other students with a foreseeable fake sneeze.

While there may be some truth to that, local elementary teachers are getting creative in their plan to enforce safety guidelines.

Roycesietta Allen, a pre-kindergarten teacher at Port Arthur ISD’s Wheatley School of Early Childhood Programs, is bringing a twist to the mask mandate.

“Dealing with the younger kids, I realize this might be the new normal for awhile, so I plan to encourage the policy that’s implemented and ensure PPE will be an enjoyable experience for us all,” she said.

Port Arthur ISD Pre-K teacher Roycesietta Allen is creating ‘super student’ masks for her classroom to encourage students to wear masks like a superhero.

In her ninth year as an educator, Allen is adapting to a new COVID-19 safe style of teaching.

This year her classroom will include pods, superhero masks and a whole lot of sanitizer.

“We aren’t able to share supplies, so I will encourage hands-on learning by creating what I call a ‘pod,’” she said. “Everyone will have their own space sectioned off in the classroom and bring their own supplies to encourage social distancing. I will also have a hand-sanitizing station that will go off and sing ‘happy birthday’ so the kids will know the appropriate amount of time to wash until they are done, and we will sanitize, sanitize, sanitize.”

To deter the mask fiasco in the video, Allen intends to make the movement a super one.

“As a Pre-K teacher you have to be very innovative,” she said. “Superheroes wear masks and kids love superheroes, so we are going to be ‘super students.’”

Allen said she is ready to return to school despite the challenges.

“I’m really excited for school to start and to see my kids again,” she said. “I’m looking forward to this new experience, because we will all learn a lot.”

Bailey Baxter, a second grade teacher at Port Neches-Groves ISD’s Woodcrest Elementary, thought of a similar idea to Allen’s.

“My whole team has been talking about what we can do this year,” she said. “Our main goal is to make them feel loved like we always do and make them feel good. Just because someone has a mask on doesn’t change who they are.”

Baxter is developing her own way to make kids feel super.

“Kids love superheroes. Put your mask on like a superhero,” she said. “We’ve talked about different characters like that. We also have a lot of games planned that we talk about doing where they can feel like they are on a team even if they aren’t sitting together.”

Baxter said even though the classroom will look different this year, a traditional setting is better than an online platform.

“You can’t replace a teacher,” she said. “You can read a book online, but to hear a book read with expression like a teacher does, it doesn’t compare. There is so much you can’t teach them over a computer like how to be kind, how to be patient, how to share.”

As a mom and educator, Baxter said she cannot wait to get back to school.

“Online learning was one of the hardest things for me to do,” she said. “There is nothing like teaching a kid in person. There is nothing that compares to seeing their faces light up. I know every teacher in PNGISD is ready to see their kids.”

In Gerri Hotchkiss’ third grade class at Nederland ISD’s Highland Elementary, the focus is positivity.

“We aren’t back in school yet, so we are still in the learning process ourselves but we always try to keep it positive,” she said. “If we are positive about it, then they will be positive about the new parts of school.”

Hotchkiss’ biggest challenge will be teaching the importance of sharing without the action.

“In the past, I’ve always had community supplies,” she said. “This year will be different. It will be a challenge. We’ve always taught them to help each other, but just being back in school is going to help tremendously.

“Third graders thrive on being around their peers and growing that way, but even though there are some hurdles to overcome, being back at school is going to be positive for their social and mental health.”

Although Hotchkiss is excited to be back in the classroom, she said the No. 1 rule to keep in mind is to be a good example.

“If we’re wearing masks, we have to do it altogether,” she said. “We have to be the example. I’ve seen a lot of people post things about how we respond to things directly influences how kids respond. If we’re positive, they will be. If we are negative, they will be negative. So no matter how we feel about it, we have to show that we are in this together and being together is the most important part.”