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BACK TO SCHOOL: A look inside Mercer County classrooms

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MERCER COUNTY (WVVA) -- Pandemic protocols are causing makeovers in Mercer County classrooms.

In elementary schools, Mercer County's 'blended model' reentry plan meets the state's color-coded metric.

"If we are [in the] orange, elementary will go every other day on a shortened schedule and do virtual learning on off days," explained Kelli Stanley, principal at Mercer Elementary School. "If we're yellow or green, our students come every day on a shortened schedule."

Secondary schools will divide student bodies in half alphabetically, alternating in-school attendance days.

"A through L would start on Monday, then M through Z would come Tuesday," explained Anna Lilly, principal at Pikeview High School. "It would be like a Monday/Wednesday/Friday, Tuesday/Thursday alternating schedule."

On those alternating days, students will participate in virtual learning, with a Mercer County Schools-provided device.

Desks in both elementary and secondary schools are being laid out to meet social distancing guidelines.

"We're giving them as much social distance as possible," Stanley added. "If a classroom has tables, we have shields coming that can put but on there, so kids aren't face-to-face or too close."

Formerly crowded hallways and stairwells are also being turned to one-way traffic, and class changes will be staggered to avoid overcrowding.

"We're trying to keep kids social distanced by placing signs throughout the building to remind them to stay smart and keep six feet apart," Lilly said. "We also have arrows on the floor that are directional, to keep kids on certain sides of the hall."

Depending on the 'color category' of the county, masks are required for grades 3 and up in certain settings.

When in the green, grades 3+ must wear face coverings on buses and in congregant settings, or where social distancing cannot be maintained.

In the yellow, grades 3-5 must wear face coverings in congregant settings, and grades 6+ must wear them at all times.

In orange, grades 3+ must wear a mask at all times.

"Any time they're in the hallway, any time they're in common areas - those masks are worn by students and staff alike," Stanley assured.

The only exception for mask-wearing is certain physical activity, Lilly says.

"If they're involved in aerobic activity, they can remove their mask," she explained. "Such as calisthenics or something of that nature; if they're involved in an activity where they have to move a lot. But at all other times, even in P.E., they'll have their masks on."

Recess is still scheduled for elementary students, but only one class will be permitted on the playground at a time.

"[We'll be] encouraging them to stay as far apart as they can, and play games that encourage that as well," Stanley explained.

Daily classroom sanitization and regular deep-cleanings of schools round out the effort to keep Mercer County out of the red.

Jade Burks

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