With Watertown elementary school students already attending hybrid, and the middle school starting some in person learning this week, the Watertown Public Schools are offering COVID-19 testing for students.
Watertown School staff have already had access to the testing, but Superintendent Dede Galdston told the School Committee that she just recently learned the student testing could begin.
“It is a very late thing. … Last week didn’t know we would be able to start student testing,” Galston said. “It is voluntary. Starting Tuesday, any middle school student interested in getting tested, or family that wants their middle school student to be tested, can do so.”
The tests will be the anterior nasal tests, Galston said, which are not as invasive as some that go farther up the nose. She said about 150 students have signed up to be tested on Tuesday.
More testing will be done though the year, and Galdston said the Watertown Schools will likely begin doing pool testing, where multiple samples are tested at one time. If there is a positive test, everyone in the pool is retested.
Tests will be offered to WHS students the week of Nov. 30 (the week when the school is scheduled to go to hybrid), Galdston said, and the plan is to start pool testing at the elementary schools the same week.
Galston said she hopes opening testing to students will help the schools from spreading COVID-19.
“We are excited about moving this into the next phase. As we know testing and tracing and isolation are the way to prevent the virus from spreading,” Galdston said. “We are going to do our part here in the Watertown Public Schools.”
Other steps to decrease the risk of the spreading the virus include air purifiers for each room, making sure all windows can open and have screens and replacing filters in the HVAC system, Galdston said.
“We have installed screens across the board in the elementaries and middle school,” Galdston said. “We have air purifiers for all the rooms (in elementary and middle schools), and we are pretty close to all the high school’s (classrooms).”
Those measures will allow the air in a classroom to be exchanged six to eight times an hour, Galdston said.
On Oct. 27, the elementary schools moved back to some in-person learning — two cohorts of students each doing two days a week.
Assistant Superintendent Theresa McGuinness said that the reviews have been good so far.
“Students are reporting feeling much more connected in school after just being hybrid for one full week,” McGuinness said.
All decisions to move into hybrid are done looking at the state’s recommendations and also working closely with the Watertown Health Department.
“In terms of any kind of movement we make, such as the move into hybrid for the Middle School, we check with the chair of the Board of Health to make sure it was the right thing to do for students,” Galston said. “That decision was concurred (by the Board of Health), which is why moved to do it.”
Watertown Middle School is preparing to start hybrid on Nov. 12. Students will be grouped into two cohorts and will attend in-person twice a week. Principal Donna Martin said that the school has been organized to make it conducive to social distancing.
Students will remain in the same classroom, while teachers in their cluster will switch rooms, Martin said. The clusters have been grouped into nearby classrooms to allow for teachers to move around more easily.
Inside the school, stairways and hallways will be one way, to reduce congestion. Students will go in different entrances depending on where their homeroom is located, Martin said.
The Middle School will operate differently than the last time students attended classes in person, Martin said.
“Last year, before March, students would come in early and go to the cafeteria, go to the gym, go to library to hang out, study or play basketball. It is not going to be like that this year,” Marin said. “The doors (of the school) are going to be closed until 8:15 (a.m.). So, I ask all parents please don’t drop students off much earlier than 8:15, especially when it gets cold.”
Watertown High School is the last school still operating all-remotely, but the goal is to start hybrid learning on Nov. 30, Galdston said.
The schedule at the high school was adjusted this week, said Principal Joel Giacobozzi said.
“We knew in August the schedule would need to be tweaked. As we looked at our time on learning we really tried to increase the amount of time kids were in front of adults,” Giacobozzi said. “Unfortunately, it’s no replacement. As much as the asynchronous work designed by our teachers has been robust and challenging moving our curriculum forward, our synchronous time (teachers interacting live with students) is really where we make the magic happen.”
When hybrid learning starts, Giacobozzi said that he hopes that even students participating remotely can be part of what’s going on in the classroom.
“Our hope is in the Nov. 30 roll out students will be able to simulcast to their counterparts at home,” Giacobozzi said. “The choice has been given to teacher to simulcast or provide asynchronous work.”
He added that many teachers have already started to work with the technology needed to simulcast from their rooms.