Playful not imprisoned: Florida teachers create socially distant, Jeep-inspired desks for kids

DELAND, Fl. — In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, many parents, teachers, school staff and students are adjusting to new norms to continue education in the safest ways possible.

While many districts have opted in to virtual learning options, some teachers are having to think creatively about how to engage remote students while others are focused on maintaining clean and safe practices in classrooms for in-person lessons.

Two first-grade teachers in DeLand, Florida, have proven that in-person classes can still be both safe and fun.

Patricia Dovi and Kim Martin of St. Barnabas Episcopal School transformed their students’ desks into mini Jeeps.

Each desk has a protective plexiglass shield that borders three sides of the desk, keeping students protected from each others’ respiratory droplets when talking as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19. The transparent plexiglass allows the teachers and students to clearly see each other, keeping them separate while not impeding upon instruction time.

“We had a little meet-the-teacher session and we gave them keys to their car and told them just like in a motor vehicle, you have to stay in your car at all times and wear a mask when you get out in case you come across hazardous conditions,” Martin told CNN. “So we’re playing on this vehicle concept to turn social distancing fun and more kid friendly.”

“They are really kind of utilizing the concept of a vehicle for safety rules,” she told Fox News. “No one else can be inside your car, keep hands inside the vehicle ... It’s a way to make them feel playful rather than imprisoned.”

If this is how I get my 15 minutes of fame, I am totally ok with it! 😊 Thanks to Jennifer Birch Pierson in Texas for so willingly sharing this amazing idea with teachers everywhere!

Posted by Patricia Dovi on Wednesday, August 19, 2020

The plexiglass trifold, which acts as a windshield and windows, was supplied by the school. The two teachers will be reimbursed $200 for the other materials they used to craft faux tires, headlights and license plates. They said the fake sets of keys they made for each student prompted kids to ask where the ignition was so that they could take the desks for a test drive.

Dovi and Martin, who have separate classrooms with a connecting door, said they got the idea from Jennifer Pierson, a teacher in Texas who posted about the mini Jeeps on a social media page for teachers. Martin said she thought the idea was a great way to make the plexiglass less intimidating to the young students.

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Jeep Kindergarten @jeep

A post shared by Jennifer Birch Pierson (@jenniferpierson11) on

“All of us have some sort of anxiety about going back to school. It’s going to look 100% different than it’s looked in my 20 years of teaching,” Martin told CNN. “But our goal is making our kids happy. The playfulness will help them cope.”