Regina teachers bring students outside for fresh air, masks breaks

Students are adapting to longer classes with their new block schedule. To give them some fresh air and a break from wearing PPE all day, some teachers have started bringing the students outside.


Jeff Sigmund

A tent stands in the courtyard at Regina school 2050 Rochester Ave. It serves as outdoor classroom and cafeteria. As seen on Monday, Sept.21,2020

Natalie Dunlap, News Reporter

When Regina High School students returned to in-person instruction, they had to adjust to a new schedule, with four classes a day that lasted an hour and a half. To split up these long periods and give students a break from wearing personal protective equipment, some teachers have been bringing students outside for a few minutes each period.

While public schools in the Iowa City community are waiting until Sept. 28 to enter physical classrooms again, the Regina Catholic Education Center brought back students earlier and began in-person classes on Aug. 24.

Regina High School Junior and Senior Principal Glenn Plummer said he would estimate that 78 percent of students are on campus full time.

“Despite the extras that we have in place for preventive measures, it’s been pretty much like a normal school year,” he said.

Preventative measures include required face coverings and desks placed at least six feet apart, Plummer said. Students are in four long classes every day, instead of eight short classes, and the class schedule alternates each day, he said.

He added that Regina High School has also limited how many students can eat in the cafeteria at a time and started using other spaces, including the outdoors, for lunch time. 

Mask breaks emerged as another use of outdoor spaces. Regina High School English teacher Clark McFerren said he has often brought his students outside for class.

“Any day it’s been nice weather, even some days where it hasn’t been, as long as the rain stopped,” McFerren said. “We’ve got the 90-minute block periods and I try about 45 minutes in to take my kids out and let them walk.”

When students can stay 10 to 12 feet away from each other, McFerren said he lets them take off their masks for a few minutes. Sometimes he will do this in two different trips, depending on the class size.

He added that the breaks have become an expectation for the students.

“They’ll remind me if I’ve gone over my 45 minutes,” McFerren said.

Regina High School theology and religion teacher Shelly Conlon said she designates a student as a “break master” for each class that changes frequently.

“I would be teaching and teaching and teaching — you kind of forget that they’ve been sitting there the whole time,” she said. “And I would feel bad for them sitting so long, so eventually I was like, ‘Alright, one of you has to remind me that we’re going to take a break.’”

Similar to McFerren, she said she will take her students out once every period. When they are seated 10 feet apart, Conlon said, she lets them remove their masks for a few minutes before heading back in.

Both McFarren and Conlon said these short trips outside only function as a way to give students some fresh air and a PPE break for themselves. McFerren said when students have the chance to do work outside, they often get distracted, and Conlon said she would need to bring equipment outside to teach online students at the same time.

McFerren, Conlon and Plummer all praised the students’ abilities to follow safety guidelines.

“I think they understand that the health of their friends, sports teams, activities, depend on everybody managing to stay healthy,” McFerren said.

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