As more schools are bringing some students back into the school building, Brooklyn Lab has shared their playbook designed by 5 architectural firms.

As they grappled with how best to manage their reopening, Brooklyn Lab Charter School assembled multiple ideas from five architectural firms throughout the summer and worked closely with their staff and families to gather extensive feedback.   This resulted in the creation of a playbook, the “Facilities Planning in the Era of COVID-19” Guide, created in partnership with the Urban Projects Collaborative, that they and others could use to guide them to keep staff and students safe. The Guidebook provides some fascinating graphics to illustrate what a safe return could look like.

Here are some key ideas shared during a recent webinar hosted by LISC featuring staff from the Brooklyn Lab Charter School:

  • IT STARTS OUTSIDE BEFORE STUDENTS ARRIVE. - The design firms had quickly done calculations indicating that bringing students back safely and in compliance with social distancing measures could produce unwieldly lines. Imagine students standing in line up to a mile long in Brooklyn waiting to get into school.  They resulted in the creation of a “front porch” concept to manage safe student arrival, and they developed a “popup” front porch that was quickly installed.  
  • PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. -  To practice using the front porch and other innovations, they had several dress rehearsals with staff to walk through the process.  They tried each process multiple times with different people playing multiple roles to understand what that experience for students and staff would feel like on a daily basis, and continued to improve processes as needed. They held over 150 focus groups, town halls, and design sessions since closing last March in order to prepare for reopening, focusing first and foremost on those students with special needs. By the time they were welcoming students into the building, they were ready, and learning began right away for all students.
  • LIMIT THE BURDEN ON STUDENTS. - To reinforce wearing masks and personal protective equipment and maintaining physical distance, they realized they would also need to reinforce this new way of doing things. They created signage and held tours to reinforce expectations and to make sure there was total clarity on safe furniture placement and movement in the building. During the day, students in classrooms remain stationary, while the adults and teachers rotate from one classroom to another to limit the amount of movement during the course of the day.
  • FLOW. -Recognizing one of the critical issues in being indoors is to bring in fresh air and move air up and out, they focused on their mechanical systems and understanding what modifications were possible. They replaced filters and worked to ensure an optimal amount of new air flow to increase circulation and the number of air exchanges to at least two.  This can be challenging when many newer energy efficient HVAC systems are optimized to decrease the amount of outside air being brought in. 
  • SMALL GROUPS. -Beyond managing the arrival process through the front porch, they focused on clustering students and staff while in the building to make it simpler to identify anyone who has come in contact with a positive case.  They developed a series of template messages to communicate to key stakeholders when someone in the school tests positive or has been in contact with someone who has tested positive to get the word out quickly.
  • GIMME A BREAK. - As part of reconfiguring classrooms for social distancing, cool-down areas were created to support student and staff emotional trauma. These cool-down areas are separated from the rest of the class with appropriate barriers, where a student can take a moment for a breather, remove their mask and calm down while still being actively engaged in instruction.
  • QUARANTINE ROOM/ISOLATION AREA- In the event that someone starts exhibiting symptoms on campus, they designated an isolation or quarantine room within each building and when possible, on each floor. Transition points throughout the space are minimized to prevent further spread, and these areas have proximity to a standalone bathroom.  Additionally, in the event that person was unable to leave the campus quickly, modifications to the airflow within that space can be made to maintain negative pressure to contain the air and push it outside per CDC recommendations.
  • SUCCESS COACHES/ADVOCATES- Each child has been assigned their own educational advocate, an adult that is supporting them throughout their process. These advocates connect regularly with students to make sure they have someone to talk to and that they have the tools and systems in place to be successful both with remote learning and in the brick and mortar environment.
  • DISMISSAL- Students have been trained on a socially distant staggered dismissal process while exiting classrooms and the building. They held practices during the first days of school on both regular dismissal and evacuation processes.  For now, their school day for students who have opted to come on site starts at 8:00 PM ends at 12:30 PM, so staff hands out lunches at the end of the day during their dismissal process.
  • GRACE IS KEY-A level of grace and understanding is key given all of the change and associated stressors. They suggest being generous with colleagues, with ourselves, and with each other.  

To access the full presentation and view the webinar, click here.

To access a copy of the Equity Playbook, click here.