St. Thomas More School begins 2020-2021 school year
St. Thomas More School, 1040 Flexer Ave., Allentown began the new school year Aug. 31 with both in-person and virtual classes.
“The Diocese of Allentown and St. Thomas More School both looked at the needs of our students and determined that they needed to be in school,” Principal Derek W. Peiffer said. “We dedicated our summer to preparing STM for students coming in live, but we also needed to have a virtual option for families who may be uncomfortable sending students in person. Our school and church community all helped to support us in getting the students back in school.
Peiffer said their first goal was to prepare the building to be healthy for the students.
“We met with Dr. Timothy Friel, head of infectious disease; Dr. Andrew Miller, pediatric emergency medicine; Mrs. Sarah Rinker, infectious disease nurse; Lou Puentes, vice president of operations and public safety (all from Lehigh Valley Health Network), Mrs. Teresa Hudak, a nurse at St. Luke’s University Health Network and our school nurses Mrs. Jenha Tighe and Mrs. Eileen White. We evaluated our facilities and created our protocols based on their recommendations,” Peiffer said.
He said the key areas addressed were wearing masks, frequent handwashing, social distancing and minimizing student interactions. The school ordered a mask for all students although they can wear whatever mask is most comfortable for them as long as it covers their mouth and nose.
The school has over 15 hand sanitizing stations in the hallways, as well as hand sanitizer in every classroom. The desks are all six feet apart. Students remain in their homerooms and teachers travel to the classes.
Peiffer said STM also created outside classroom space so students can be spaced out, take off their masks and learn in an outside environment. In order to do that, they increased Internet access to cover the entire campus outside. In addition to these protocols, STM had to make the building healthy for students and staff. They converted a conference room into a “sick” nurse’s office for any students with symptoms. The office was outfitted with a special air purifier with a HEPA filter. The “sick” nurse’s office is separate from the regular nurse’s office for other student medical needs.
The HVAC company increased the airflow into the classrooms and replaced the filters with MERV 13 filters to purify the air and remove germs. The school added air scrubbers in the hallways with HEPA filtration since they did not have enough airflow in the hallways.
“Our second goal was to prepare our teachers to teach in an environment that had both live and virtual classrooms,” Peiffer said. “We learned from last year when all of our students and teachers had to quickly change from live instruction to complete online learning. This summer, our Director of Educational Technology, Mrs. Tracy Sell, developed a plan to utilize the iPads for both live and online instruction.”
Teachers use the platform SeeSaw in grades K-4 and Schoology in grades 5-8 to house all the materials students need and also for communication with the students.
Online students follow the same schedule as the live students. STM uses Zoom for the students to log into the classroom. The teachers have iPad stands on wheels to move the online students around the room with them as they are teaching so they feel like part of the classroom.
This format allows students to be a part of the class even if they need to be home for quarantining or other illnesses. All students submit their work in the same manner no matter if they are live or online.
“Our families and students were thrilled to be back at school on the first day,” Peiffer said. “Our teachers wear a pin with their smiling faces so the students know what they look like without their masks. It was very exciting to see the students’ smiling eyes on the first day of school.
“All the time and effort we spent over the summer was worth it when the students started entering the building. One little girl said she was so excited to come back to school that she couldn’t sleep the night before. That statement made it all worthwhile.”