COVID control: Specialized COVID-19 protocols implemented for unvaccinated students

Sixth+grade+students%2C+Lily+Bratman%2C+Kate+Rheinheimer%2C+Arissa+Lalani%2C+Farah+Sandoval+and+Caroline+Muldaur+sit+outside+on+the+front+lawn+to+enjoy+their+lunch.+Along+with+a+number+of+specialized+protocols+for+unvaccinated+students%2C+eating+lunch+on+the+front+lawn+is+a+requirement+for+sixth+graders+and+any+unvaccinated+seventh+graders.

Photo credit: Cadence Callahan

Sixth grade students, Lily Bratman, Kate Rheinheimer, Arissa Lalani, Farah Sandoval and Caroline Muldaur sit outside on the front lawn to enjoy their lunch. Along with a number of specialized protocols for unvaccinated students, eating lunch on the front lawn is a requirement for sixth graders and any unvaccinated seventh graders.

By Cadence Callahan, Voices Editor

On Archer’s campus, the unvaccinated population of students follow specialized protocols in addition to the protocols the vaccinated population follows. As students under the age of 12 cannot get vaccinated due to FDA vaccination eligibility requirements, the specialized protocols are put in place to combat the spread of COVID-19 amongst the “most vulnerable population,” sixth grade class dean Lauren Sekula said. 

Since a majority of the unvaccinated students in the Archer community are in sixth grade, they operated under specialized protocols. Some seventh graders don’t yet meet the vaccination age requirement, so they must follow some of the protocols implemented in the sixth grade such as weekly testing and sitting in designated lunch areas. 

Sekula belives because the sixth graders are so “gung-ho” about returning to school, they’re eager to follow the protocols.

Most [sixth graders] can’t get vaccinated, so our goal is to keep them as safe as possible. ”

— Lauren Sekula

“They are really great at following [the rules] and being mindful of each other’s space,” Sekula said. “And because they are so happy to be back on campus and in a school setting, they will follow the rules to keep each other safe.” 

All students in the Archer community are expected to wear masks at all times except when they are eating, drinking or engaging in distanced outside fitness activities. Students are also required to keep a distance of six feet between themselves and their peers in outdoor spaces and a distance of three feet when indoors. An additional protocol solely followed by the unvaccinated population is remaining masked during activities such as choir and fitness.

Sixth grader Shayda Johnson said connecting with her peers is a “bit harder” due to the rules about distancing.

“We’re not supposed to touch our peers,” Johnson said. “Sometimes you want to high-five your friend, and when [teachers] say you can’t do that it’s a bit outlandish.”

Sixth grade mentor Casey Huff echoed Johnson’s ideas about challenges with connection.

“Wearing a mask and not being able to see each other’s face definitely makes connecting a little bit harder,” Huff said. “With a mask on, it’s harder to hear people, so I’ll have to repeat myself or students will have to repeat themselves. I think these are things that can inhibit the ease of connection.”

Another rule specifically imposed upon the unvaccinated population is early access to the servery during lunch. Sixth graders are allowed into the servery at 11:55 to avoid crowding. The sixth grade class and unvaccinated seventh graders are also required to eat lunch on the front lawn. 

All community members are required to participate in Archer’s PCR COVID-19 surveillance testing program every other week, while unvaccinated students are tested every week.

Sixth grader Eva Prisco first heard of the specialized protocols during her grade orientation in August. Prisco had to follow similar rules at her old school and said she believes Archer made the “right call” putting them in place.

“I think these protocols are going to be very effective in preventing a lot of students from getting COVID-19,” Prisco said.

According to Sekula, Archer teachers have recognized the adjustment students have had to make from online to in-person learning such as having to adapt to a more regimented schedule in regards to learning and free time. To better accommodate the students, sixth grade mentorship is held outside to allow students a break from wearing their masks. 

“We’re spending a lot of mentorship time outside, so [sixth graders] can snack and build a community with their mentorship group,” Sekula said. “We still do mentorship activities, but we’re doing it outside to give them a chance to take off their masks, eat and drink all in a safe environment.”

While Sekula highlighted the challenge of physically having every sixth grader three feet apart in the classroom, she believes teachers are doing their best to abide by protocols such as keeping windows open and air circulating at all times. Sekula applauded the “resilience” of the class and their eagerness to be back on campus.

“There’s this new COVID-19 generation, and as hard, tiring and heartbreaking as the last year and a half has been, it’s been so joyful to have everyone back on campus together and [to see] the community and connection still there and growing,” Sekula said. “[It] is a really beautiful sight to see and hear.”