Volunteers re-enter Poudre School District schools, but it looks much different

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Wednesday was the first day Poudre School District elementary, middle and high schools were able to have volunteers back in the building this school year, marking a shift in the district’s COVID-19 restrictions. 

And while volunteers are allowed on campuses again, it looks quite different. 

“This is not an open door,” PSD spokesperson Madeline Noblett said. “We’re looking at this in a very focused way, and we will continue to monitor and see what the effects are.”

Volunteers at the elementary level will be required to wear to wear a K-N95 mask, along with eye protection — likely a face shield, Noblett said. At the secondary level, volunteers will be required to wear at least a cloth mask. 

To assist with contact tracing, volunteers will also have to fill out a daily symptom screener similar to one used by district staff. They will be asked to indicate COVID-19 symptoms, if they’ve had exposure, which buildings are they going to and the type of work that they were doing.

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In addition to safety protocols, volunteers may be doing different work than they were before.

“We’re really trying to look at this strategically and say, ‘Who do we need to be able to support kids now? How do we do that in as safe a way as possible?” Noblett said.

There won’t be classroom volunteers reading to children in groups or working alongside them. Rather, if a volunteer is indoors, their task will allow for distance, like shelving library books or making copies, Noblett said.

Volunteers can also be stationed outdoors to assist with recess duties or traffic monitoring.

Traci Gile, interim assistant superintendent of elementary schools, announced the return of volunteers at a Feb. 9 school board meeting. 

She said bringing help back to schools would hopefully “address the workload concerns for teachers who are doing a lot of before- and after-school duties and more supervision duties at their sites.”

“To not have (volunteers) for the last 10 months has been been really impactful on the amount of workload for teachers, for the types of services and programming that we can provide to kids,” Gile told the Coloradoan.

“Since the very beginning of the school year, teachers have been trying to figure out ‘how am I going to do what I used to do without the assistance of volunteers?'”

Gile said it is very likely that some schools will continue to have no volunteers, but some could see as many as five. 

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The district did not cap the number of volunteers who could register; it would be based on the level of need at different schools, Noblett said. As volunteers are phased back in, it has been more common for schools to reach out to former volunteers and ask them to return than it has been to have volunteers reaching out on their own.

Noblett said the district shared its plan to return volunteers with the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment as it was developed. Preparing safety protocols and designing how the return would work took a matter of weeks, she said, adding that the district was able to bring back volunteers because of the knowledge gained over time.

“This wasn’t something where we were really having to sit and ponder deeply,” Noblett said, adding the district had “a number of best practices” and safety procedures at this point in the pandemic used to guide its decisions.

Molly Bohannon covers education for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @molboha or contact her at mbohannon@coloradoan.com. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.