Walking down the halls of Mt. Jordan Middle School in Sandy, Utah, Dr. Matt Watts is everything you would expect a junior high school principal to be.
Watts is a bit light-hearted.
“Hey dude, how was the birthday?” Watts asked a passing student.
However, he is always thinking of the well-being of his students.
“Whoa guys, please be careful,” he said as he passed a couple of boys roughhousing in the halls.
This year, the safety of students all over the country looks different than past school years.
“If you walk around the school, you’ll see we’ve got arrows on the floors, signs up everything and even a maximum occupancy in bathrooms,” Watts said.
Of course, there is also the mandatory school staple: masks.
“That was probably one of the biggest things I was worried about, but the kids have done a fantastic job.”
Mt. Jordan Middle school is one of the few schools in the country operating on a normal schedule of five days a week and in-person learning. However, it comes with its challenges.
“One of the challenging things has been for teachers to find the balance with physical distancing and still taking care of the kids and kid’s social emotional needs,” Watts said.
Teachers like Lindsay Maxfield are being tasked with the delicate balance of keeping their kids on track educationally, while being sensitive to the uncertainty of it all.
“The (students) have been able to have a lot of really good discussion, which at the beginning of the year with their masks they were a lot quieter,” teacher Lindsay Maxfield said. “I’ve noticed they’re getting more comfortable speaking out with their masks. That has been a really cool thing to see.”
Maxfield knows that at any moment, the teaching model could change and move to an online curriculum.
“I didn’t think through all the online different tech issues that sometimes you need to teach the students,” Maxfield said. “Sometimes, we assume that they know how to do everything because they’re so techy and that kind of thing.”
As the temperatures start to drop, the possibility of more cases hangs in the air.
“A concern now is that it’s getting cold,” Watts said. “We’ve been letting kids eat outside so they can be distant and have that fresh air and now, but the cold is making us rethink what the cafeteria is going to look like.”
For now, the school is beating the odds with very few cases of COVID-19.
“When we have had to send some kids home, that gets tough because they want to be here,” Watts said.
Lifelong educators dealing with a once-in-a-ifetime test, committed to keeping their doors open for as long as possible.