In May, Expect More Arizona fielded a survey to give classroom teachers a chance to weigh in on COVID-19’s impact on education. This blog series will explore results in more detail, with specific input from teachers across the state. As the pandemic trends shift and schools plan for re-openings, outlooks will continue to evolve. Learn more about the survey at ExpectMoreArizona.org/TeacherVoices.

Check out our other blogs in this series:

As education professionals consider how best to start the school year, many on schools’ front lines are wondering what those decisions will mean for athletics and extracurricular activities.

When asked about their top priorities related to safety, teachers noted that professional cleaning of facilities before and after events (49%) and strict sanitation procedures and access to cleaning supplies (48%) were most important. One in three added that social distancing, temperature checks, attendance limitations, and requiring masks should be implemented.

Respondents fell into three categories when it comes to being comfortable with resuming sports and extracurricular activities:

  1. Sports and activities should be suspended. They are worried about ensuring the health and safety of students and thought that activities should not resume until there is a vaccine. Many others believe that academics should be the priority right now, and not sports or extracurricular activities. Some suggested using the time that would normally be spent on these activities to get students caught up academically. One noted that, “At this time – due to the loss of instructional time – sports and extracurricular activities should be cancelled for the first semester. We need to concentrate on getting our students back on track.”
  2. Sports and extracurricular activities should continue as usual. An overwhelming number of teachers want sports and extracurricular activities to return to normal and had low levels of concern, if any at all. Said one, “I think it is safe to resume sports and this is an important part of our high school culture and something that helps keep our students focused.” Another noted that “Students need to engage in physical sports. Many are relying on competitions to qualify for scholarships.”
  3. Sports and activities should resume with caution. This third group was smaller in size than the two others. Many teachers were comfortable with an in-between plan where sports and extracurricular activities should be resumed, but with limitations, which include preference for outdoor activities rather than indoor, limiting attendees, live-streaming activities, and COVID-19 testing for coaches and sponsors. There was a strong sentiment that different considerations need to be evaluated for different activities. A one-sized fits all approach would not work for activities like: band, choir, track, football, tennis, clubs, CTE programs, etc.

In Sierra Vista, English teacher Tierney Parker also works with youth on the yearbook. She’s unsure how her journalists and photographers will cover sporting events and other activities, if they even happen. She hopes her student journalists will be allowed to attend, with safety precautions like wearing gloves and a mask and maintaining social distancing. This way, they can report on what happens at each athletic game for the rest of the student body since it’s likely that fans will not be allowed to attend. Last year, her students gathered deeply meaningful quotes to include the yearbook from graduating seniors to, who saw athletic seasons cut short and prom and graduations cancelled.

In west Phoenix’s Western Valley Elementary School, art teacher Connor Gifford is anxious with the uncertainty of the upcoming school year, and misses her students terribly. When students can return to the classroom, her district is planning hybrid AM/PM schedules with a heavy focus on core subjects. So where does that leave art? If most learning will happen virtually, how will she distribute supplies? And what if the art studio is being used as extended classroom space when the school campus opens up for in-person instruction? She’s planning as best as possible, but knows that there are still many questions to be answered.

Nathan Darus is the music teacher at Douglas High School. He and his students were devastated when spring competitions and final performances were cancelled. And he knows these disciplines lack quality technology for teaching band and music. His school had plans to hold band camp over the summer with social distancing and small groups in place, but as confirmed COVID-19 cases rose, that became impossible. Moving forward, it’s unlikely that choir will be allowed, so that course will likely transition to cover Musical Theatre or Intro to Music Appreciation. Overall, he’s hopeful about getting kids back into the classroom because it’s simply the most effective way to expose kids to music.

It remains to be seen what these activities will look like as the school year resumes and will likely vary widely depending on the district. But we know that arts, sports, and clubs play an important role in the lives of youth, giving them outlets for expression, fitness, ways to find friends and develop talents. As one teacher shared, “Based on what I have been hearing from families, students probably need sports and the arts, from a mental health perspective, more than academics.”