How to Teach Social Distancing to Students

middle schoolers playing a game with a staff member while social distancing

Normally at Arthur Morgan School, we start the year with a three day hiking trip. Students break up into smaller groups and make friends while accomplishing a challenge together.  The trips offer a great opportunity for students to feel accomplished while also easing their anxieties about starting the new school year. This year, however, we decided to do things a little differently. Opening AMS amidst COVID-19 means taking extra precautions to ensure our safety and well being.  Therefore, during this year’s student orientation, the community is taking on the question of how to teach social distancing to students.

Social Distancing is a Big Change for AMS

At AMS, our middle schoolers typically spend their days in close contact with one another.  Whether they’re cuddling on the couch during Morning Sing, sharing their snack, or simply working closely together during internships, physical contact is a regular part of life at AMS. When we decided to offer an in person program this year, we knew students would need help adjusting to social distancing.  We designed an orientation that included lots of fun activities and also taught students how to care for themselves.

Activities for The New Normal

Students will participate in activities that help them get to one another while giving them ideas for how to play while maintaining a healthy distance. They will talk about norms around using masks when eating, going inside buildings, and doing chores.  We will demonstrate how courses will work and prepare them for how to stay engaged in the new outdoor classroom spaces.

Staff really thought about how all these new rules would affect students. We guessed our middle schoolers would get tired and struggle to remember to stay 6 feet away and or put on masks when walking inside. We wanted to create a culture where students recognized the social distancing norms’ importance, but did not feel the need to regulate each other all day long.  We are accomplishing this goal by running students through different scenarios in which they can brainstorm how to handle situations that will require them to speak up.

middle schoolers talking to teacher about social distancing

Keeping Some Old Favorites

We are also planning activities that maintain the spirit of our normal student orientation.  Students will hike to Strawberry Fields and go swimming in the river. They will participate in outdoor skills workshops and still play Policy Jeopardy. We will conclude our week as normal at the Contract Signing Ceremony on Saturday night.

Identifying Emotions Around Illness

One addition to the schedule this year is a workshop on destigmatizing illness. During this pandemic, being sick, even with just the common cold, can make students feel embarrassed. We wanted to address those feelings directly by creating a culture in which students feel safe to be honest about when they aren’t feeling well. By being preemptive, we hope our students will feel secure telling us how they are doing so that we can continue providing them with the care they need.

This school year is going to be very different.  While still feeling like AMS in all the ways that matter, the school community will need to make adjustments that keep our community healthy. Losing our three day hiking trips was a hard compromise we made in order to keep everyone safe. However, thanks to this week’s student orientation, we are better prepared to make the year a successful one.

-by Nicholas Maldonado