Within schools, there's a place for everything and everything (mostly) stays in place; we eat in the cafeteria, shoot hoops in the gymnasium, read books in the library, and do experiments in the rooms with chemical hoods and sinks. Classrooms are classrooms and shared spaces are shared spaces, but in light of social distancing guidelines, some of these rooms are going unoccupied when they could benefit from a flexible outlook.
When converting gyms, common areas, and cafeterias into impromptu classrooms, there's a slew of new needs that won't be in-use forever. Creating a cost-effective but functional temporary classroom can be the key to keeping classroom occupancy low and students safe.
Unless your communal spaces are particularly petite, there's a good chance that your spaces will need to be divided and shared among multiple classrooms. Too many kids taking in too many lesson plans right next to one another causes needless distraction, but a quick implementation of dividers can actively and agilely separate spaces without hassle.
To eliminate gaps between dividers or alleviate the cost of purchasing a high quantity, seek out freestanding partition systems that are often used to create cubicle walls. Not all panel systems are well-suited to this; many of them require supporting pieces or grounding and a trained sales representative should be able to help you navigate this buying process. If buying secondhand, contact a local installer for guidance.
Start with Soundproofing
No matter what you do, there's going to be a bit of noise between classrooms. While minimizing sound starts with your dividing materials, there's ways to bolster sound-absorbing capabilities that go beyond specially-designed panels. Seek out foam rectangles to hang on the sides of the dividers to remediate noise. These can be purchased as dedicated soundproofing panels or, in a pinch, it's possible to use dense multipurpose foam or fabric panels as a budget-friendly alternative.
Repurpose and Reuse Furniture
While the learning spaces might be changing, the quantity of students should stay the same. Desks that would once occupy classrooms can be simply repurposed in these flexible spaces, particularly in those that don't need to be constantly moved and reconfigured on a regular basis. Student desks, mobile whiteboards, teacher workstations, and classroom accessories can be relocated into the temporary space, so long as the existing classrooms are not lacking.
New Furniture Needs
There's a few items that aren't necessarily left over when the students exit the classroom. Major fixtures in permanent classrooms aren't movable or dividable, such as large storage pieces. Purchase alternatives to these or choose to downsize materials that might be stored in these pieces. Added classrooms often adds teachers, so seek out desks that can be reused after the COVID crisis dissipates while still providing all the functionality you need.
Some of these spaces might occupy a cafeteria or gym that still needs to be packed up and pushed aside from time to time. Lightweight, stacking, and folding pieces are an option to keep the storage footprint small when not in use. This can include student desking, seating, and classroom accessories alike.
Maintain Early Ed Aesthetics
The charm of early education classrooms often lies in the colorful and cute decorations that line the walls. While it's preferable to keep younger grades in permanent classrooms, ensure that you're outfitting any flexible spaces with lively and colorful options that can harken the spirit of a traditional early education classroom.
Keep Up Cleanliness Procedures
Larger spaces being converted into temporary use classrooms often benefit from higher ceilings and more airflow that's unrestricted by four walls. While this is a great help to keeping students healthy, there still needs to be emphasis on personal cleanliness and disinfecting. Ensure that the same cleaning caddies and hand sanitizer will be provided within these flexible spaces.