Saturday, August 8, 2020

Returning To In-Person Lessons: Part I

My county, as of 8/8/20 - Harvard Global Health Initiative

Well, piano friends, the schools in my county have been back in session for a week now. The elementary schools are open a full 5 days/week, and the middle and high schools are doing a hybrid of in-person and online. All of my piano students except the ones who were already home schooling are back in classes. At the same time, we're in a hot spot. My county, according to the Harvard Global Health Initiative, is still in the highest category of risk. (Maniacal laughter!) We are also in an area where people want very much to return to some kind of normalcy, and feel they can take enough reasonable precautions to be safe. They want to come back to in-person piano.

So, with all my students back in school, I am offering the choice of online and in-person lessons for fall, starting August 17. Am I crazy? Yeah, maybe. I have a very small studio of 14 students, and all but 3 are choosing to come back in person. I feel a huge sense of responsibility to make my studio as safe as possible, but I am going to give this a try. Any student who is showing symptoms, who has been exposed, or who is waiting for test results should go back to online lessons, and of course, if I meet any of those conditions, all lessons will be online. (Policies in the next post.)

Please keep in mind that I moderate comments on my blog. I won't post any judgmental or unkind comments, and my blog post should not be considered a recommendation on my part that you return to in-person lessons. You'll have to make that decision based on your families, the demand for it, and the health conditions in your community. But, if you decide to teach in-person, and you'd like to know what another teacher is doing to make conditions safer, here ya go!

This is going to take more than one post. This post, Part I, will cover my studio setup, that is the safety provisions and protocols I am putting in place as students arrive and use the equipment. Part 2 will cover policies such as masking, etc. There may be a Part 3. We'll see.

This cleaner, along with Lysol Kitchen Pro, disinfects in only 2 minutes.

I'll write first about cleaning supplies. I got up early for a Saturday and hit 4 stores at their opening times looking for cleaning supplies. Since March, there have been no disinfecting wipes and very few disinfecting cleaners on the shelves during the time of day I usually shop, but I'm happy to report that the early bird gets the worm, er, the wipes! I found Clorox wipes as well as Lysol all-purpose disinfectant spray cleaner that works in only 2 minutes. Clorox wipes require 4 minutes. 

When considering what kinds of disinfecting cleaners to use, you need to think of whether your cleaner actually kills covid (there's an exhaustive list from the EPA here), whether your surfaces will be damaged, and also how long the cleaner has to sit on the surface to actually disinfect. You might be surprised to discover that some take as long as 10 minutes. Read the labels, because if you're cleaning between back to back students, you want the stuff that works in a short time. 

But, wait, Laura. Surely you're not going to wipe down the beautiful black lacquer finish on your piano with Clorox wipes or Lysol cleaner? Well, that finish has seen lots of hard use, but no, I'm going to try to preserve what beauty is left! I'll be using wipes and spray on pencils, door knobs, door facings, the piano bench seat and handles, the plastic cover on my ipad, and the bathroom. The piano itself is another story.

Found at Lowe's. Handy for piano keys and electronics.

On my piano keys, I'll be using alcohol. I was lucky enough to find these alcohol wipes at Lowe's this morning, but if I hadn't found them, I'd just use 70% alcohol on a cotton pad. The advantage of this is that it disinfects within seconds, and it evaporates very quickly. When cleaning the keys, you want to avoid getting any moisture under the plastic key cover so it won't degrade the adhesive that holds it on. By the time I use one wipe on my keys, it's hardly wet any more because of the quick evaporation.

Foam board covered with contact paper on frequently-touched surfaces. Washi tape on ledge in front of keys. These can be wiped.

I'm not content to clean only the keys when I have children that I know will be touching everything, but I don't want to damage my piano's finish. I puzzled and puzzled this morning about what to do, and then I hit upon an idea. I had some foam board that I bought weeks ago for a craft project I abandoned. I cut it to fit my music rack and music desk and covered it with contact paper. I can wipe or spray that between students. I may add some more pieces on the music desk. On the little ledge in front of the keys, I used easily-removed washi tape. I can wipe that and replace it as needed. I'm hoping the tape will last a few days before I have to replace it. There's a good bit of black finish on the piano still exposed. I'm hoping that if I make a game of it (the black finish is lava!), I can reduce the amount of touching. I'll let you know how it works.

Printer paper makes a place mat for pencils so we can avoid touching the black lacquer finish which can't be disinfected. I can change out the paper between students.

It took two strips of washi tape, overlapping, to cover the ledge. Can replace it as needed.

Here are some other protocols I'm putting in place. We will have a teacher pencil and a student pencil on the piano. No sharing. My pencil is marked T with a sharpie. To avoid students touching the black music rack, I slipped a piece of printer paper behind my foam board and folded it up to make a little placemat for the pencils. Also, I reduced the number of colored pencils to 3 so I'll have fewer to clean in between lessons. (I can't teach without them!)

Students in the past have come in and thrown all of their stuff - jackets, school bags, music book bags - on my sofa. This year, I'm asking them to put purses and jackets on the coat rack in my foyer and book bags in a bag bucket on the floor. Nothing goes on the sofa but fannies. I don't ask students to take off their shoes when they come in my house. My family doesn't take them off, and students need their shoes on when pedaling. It's never bothered me before, but since we often play games on the studio rug, I'll be putting down a beach towel or sheet on the floor when we sit down there. I had several old beach towels, and I cut up an old king-sized sheet, so I have enough to use a clean one with each student, and they will hold out at least a couple of days before I need to wash them. No walking on the beach towels with shoes, and no hands on the rug. The rug is lava! We're on a raft in the ocean, and there are sharks in the water! Stay on the raft! I'm hopeful, but not very convinced that they'll be able to follow this rule. Eh, it's worth a try! If this isn't successful, I may resort to putting up a TV tray in front of the sofa to create a game table. 

Hand sanitizer on a plate to catch the drips.

Of course, I'll be asking students to use hand sanitizer as soon as they have hung up their jacket and dropped off their bags. We'll also use hand sanitizer both before and after playing any board games. Some of my board game items are laminated, but all are not. Also, we've used hedgehog erasers for tokens in the past, but this year, I'll use plastic buttons that I can wipe off.  

Telescoping pointer aids in distancing.

We will be wearing masks. More about that in the next post. But distancing? That's tough. My studio is pretty small, and sitting across the room kind of negates the point of being in person. I've asked parents not to congregate in my small foyer. While I don't want to discourage parents who'd like to sit in on a lesson, I've asked that if they are just coming in to pick up a child, let the child run out to the car. If they have concerns to discuss, we can talk on the phone. One of my piano teaching colleagues is having parents text when they arrive, and she tells them when it's safe to come in. I hope I don't have to resort to that. I think most of my parents can police themselves in this. As far as distancing myself from the students, I can sit back a bit and use my telescoping pointer. But, sometimes, I'm just going to need to reach up to the page. I'll be talking to the kids about the need to maybe slip off the bench on the other side while I'm leaning forward. 

Beach towels and old sheets cut up into manageable size for sitting on floor. Holmes room-sized air purifier. 

Finally, I'll be running a true HEPA air purifier with ionizer in my room. I don't know if this will really help with covid, but most of my students suffer from allergies, as do I. We live in a terrible area for allergies. If nothing else, cutting down on the allergic sniffling will save us from worrying whether the sniffling is covid or pollen. The model I use is this one from Target. You can buy cheaper filter replacements from a 3rd party on Amazon. 

My protocol will be to have the student begin their lesson by playing a learning game on my Ipad (on a clean towel on the floor) while I spend a few minutes wiping down the piano, the bench, the footstool, doors, doorknobs, pencils, and bathroom (if it was used). A quick wipe of the ipad when they're done, and we'll move to the piano. I'm going to need some heavy duty hand cream by the end of the day. Any recommendations? 

I think this is about the best I can do. If you have any creative ideas I haven't thought of, I'm all ears. Please share in the comments!

Update:  I've discovered a product called "barrier film" that is used in dental offices to cover items and keep them sanitary. Supposedly, it is easy to remove and doesn't leave a sticky residue. I'm going to try it out on my piano's music desk to allow me to wipe that area with a disinfecting wipe. I'll let you know how it works! 

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