After a surge in coronavirus cases across the region, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced new restrictions, including the cancellation of socially distanced outdoor activities in the District’s public schools and high-contact youth and amateur sports exhibitions.

Though individual teams could host practices, physical interactions would be at a minimum.

For some local educators, like Charles Boston, such circumstances provide the opportunity for alternatives, like cycling and cross-country track, that not only youth could practice within the parameters allowed, but with long-term benefits to their academic and social well-being.

“Now that contact sports have been minimized, there’s nothing for students to do,” said Boston, one-time Ward 7 school board candidate and founder of Activity Works Tutoring.

Later this month, Activity Works will host an outdoor Wednesday and Saturday Academy for students in Ward 7, thanks in part to funding provided by Howard University Hospital.

Participants, most of whom will be from Kimball Elementary School, Sousa Middle School and Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, will spend the holiday break walking or cycling through Ward 7’s outdoor spaces while listening to a student-friendly podcast about science, social studies and language arts that includes comprehension quizzes and discussion questions.

Malcolm X Elementary in Southeast launched a similar program.

“You would think that school officials would’ve figured out something, whether that’s trying to recruit students to run cross country or engage in some physical activity so their learning won’t suffer,” Boston said. “The benefits of being active are scientifically proven.”

Data from the D.C. Department of Health showed nearly 20 COVID outbreaks at District public schools between August and November, connected to interactions in the classroom, outdoors and during community activities. One case involved a student at Tyler Elementary School who participated in an on-campus garden club, according to a Dec. 2 letter signed by Principal Jasmine Brann.

This week, Bowser and her governing counterparts in Maryland and Virginia anticipate the first shipment of coronavirus vaccines this week at a time when the D.C. metropolitan region has amassed more than 500,000 COVID-cases and 10,000 COVID-related deaths.

Though Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) predicted a post-Thanksgiving surge, he has hesitated to follow county executives who’ve since imposed restrictions on dining and indoor activities. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) also encouraged residents to wear masks and follow a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew.

In addition to restrictions on youth contact sports and group exercise sessions, Bowser has limited indoor gatherings to 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 25. She also banned restaurant alcohol sales after 10p.m. However, she stopped short of imposing a new stay-at-home order, reportedly out of a belief among District officials that many residents wouldn’t comply.

Amid the flurry of questions about what type of venues, if any, should remain open, the District launched CARE classrooms. This happened after D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) officials, under pressure from the Washington Teachers’ Union, reneged on phased reopening plans for Term 2.

Like some other D.C. parents who’ve struggled on the virtual learning journey, Elsa Falkenburger said that DCPS hasn’t fully involved families of various perspectives in dialogue about the best means of educating students during a pandemic.

While Falkenburger, president of the Tyler Elementary Parent-Teacher Association commended school officials for their quick reporting of its Nov. 18 COVID case, she revealed her apprehensions about the city’s ability to devise a meticulous, well-thought-out reopening plan.

“I don’t think that our city was in the position, when the pandemic started, to have a great effort of community engagement,” Falkenburger, a mother of two Tyler Elementary students, told The Informer.

“In order to make the decisions that people want, you have to be in touch with the community. Those in D.C. Public Schools really want to make schools open [but] we weren’t in tune with what parents wanted. It’s difficult to build things that everyone wants.”

Sam P.K. Collins photo

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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