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by SARAH WEGLARZ - How the Hamilton County Health Department is stopping the spread of COVID in schools through the C.L.A.S.S. campaign.

Westfield, Ind. (Oct. 2020) - As the Coronavirus pandemic continued to ravage the United States through the summer, educators, parents, and government officials were left wondering what challenges COVID-19 would present as students prepared to return to school in the fall.

“I think one of the biggest challenges is that we’ve known school one way, and that’s five days a week, it’s a certain time of day; there’s a routine and there’s a structure,” Westfield Washington Schools Superintendent Dr. Sherry Grate said. So I think one of the greatest challenges has been a change in structure when we were immediately thrust into that in the spring.”

Not only were administrators and staff concerned about the changing structure of the school day, but there was also uncertainty as to whether students would be willing to comply with the safety precautions put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 in school.

“We were nervous at the beginning, just about if people were going to be compliant with masks. Are they going to fight our efforts to socially distance, things like that,” said Westfield High School Principal, Mrs. Alicia Denniston.

Yet, school did begin for WHS, with a mandatory mask mandate, social distancing in the classroom, and a hybrid schedule. Generally, students were very receptive to the COVID safety precautions.

“Our students have been incredible, our staff has been incredible, so overall, I know everybody is carrying a little extra burden, extra weight. You look around and you know this is a different year. It’s different, but overall, I would say people are putting others before themselves and they are not fighting those safety precautions we’re taking,” Mrs. Denniston said.

However, as the school year progressed, the Hamilton County Health Department noticed some concerning trends.

“We were seeing a really quick uptick in new cases in the 0-19-year-old age group, and we did do a survey to find out that the people who were most likely not to wear a mask were women between the ages of 40-49,” said Tammy Sander, the public relations manager for the Hamilton County Health Department.

To combat this increase in new cases, Governor Holcomb issued an order that the mask mandate is enforced through education through the county health department.

“What that meant, we weren’t quite sure, but we thought ‘how are we gonna make the [school] environment as safe as possible for kids so they can stay there?’” Sander said. “We know that’s the best place for you to learn: in a classroom. And we also know that social and emotional wellbeing is critical, and that you get that in a classroom, that you can’t have at home. That’s kind of where it [the C.L.A.S.S. campaign] was born from, this mandate from the governor to educate people.”

The C.L.A.S.S. campaign at WHS is headed by Mrs. Elizabeth Ellis and five seniors: Sarah Weglarz, Ellary Detamore, Peighton Isley, Benji Welch, and Jake Richardson.

“The goal of this year’s C.L.A.S.S. campaign is to help lead WHS students, especially seniors, to the safest and most normal school year possible through social distancing, mask-wearing, social bubble grouping, and sanitizing,” Peighton Isley (12) said. “It is super important so that seniors can participate in activities like prom, pep rallies, and sporting events.”

The C.L.A.S.S. acronym is as follows:

C: Check your child’s temperature every morning before sending them to school.

L: Lead by example: let your child see you wearing a mask and modeling social distancing.

A: Avoid large gatherings; slumber parties, carpools, and birthday parties are discouraged.

S: Schedule a test if you or someone in your family exhibits signs of COVID-19.

S: Stay home if you are not feeling well, at least until you receive your test results.

From social media takeovers to podcasts, the five seniors have various activities planned to help promote the C.L.A.S.S. campaign.

“Some of the promotional items that we are putting together for the class campaign include a couple different videos for the WHS Rock TV, a social media takeover by us seniors, a podcast with Dr. Grate, you’re reading this article on the Lantern, and we are also putting up banners across our schools with the C.L.A.S.S. logo,” Jake Richardson (12) said. “One more fun activity that we are hoping to do is organizing a fun little video where we can get all of the schools with all the other Teen Task Forces in Hamilton County Schools to submit videos of their athletic teams and we’re hoping to put together a video montage of our winter sports teams chanting ‘We want a season.’”

Perhaps the activity that excites WHS staff the most is the sports video.

“Let’s be honest, this pandemic is something we’ve been in together, and I’m so proud of our fall sports season. [Our students have had to take] extra precautions, and [have had] to play for not as many fans as they used to. But yet they’re playing with all their hearts, so I love the idea of us all coming together in the unifying message on that,” said Mrs. Denniston.

One major benefit of the campaign is that it is student-led.

“[Students] are far more influential with [their] peers than I could possibly be, and get [their] messaging from places that I don’t go, like Tik Tok. So if [they] help carry that torch, I think we have a better shot at having people follow [their] lead,” Sander said.

While the main purpose of the C.L.A.S.S. campaign is to limit the spread of COVID in schools, the campaign also reminds students and staff why the safety precautions put in place are so important.

“We’re making these sacrifices for the benefit of our students, not only for their health and their families’ health but also because we want our students to have a rich high school experience, which means we want our sports seasons. We want our activities, and we want our clubs,” Mrs. Denniston said.

Not only will the C.L.A.S.S. campaign benefit Westfield High School, but it will serve as a tool to unite the surrounding communities.

“It brings all of Hamilton County together, and it sends this message that there are certain things that are important,” Dr. Grate said. “It is important to wear a mask. It is important that as adults, we model for our students and for our families.”

While there are short term benefits to the campaign, such as reducing the day to day cases of COVID, health officials have long term goals as well.

“Ultimately, I hope we can keep [students] in school through the entire year,” Sander said. “Maybe if there’s a vaccine come spring, at some point, [students] can return full time in person. My hope is that this is not normal.”

So, keep the C.L.A.S.S. acronym in mind as this unprecedented time continues. Check your temperature. Lead by example. Avoid large gatherings. Schedule a test and stay home if you’re feeling sick. By following these guidelines, we can work together to remain safe, stay in school, and make the year as normal as possible.

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