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2 teachers in Florida transformed their desks into Jeeps to ease students into social distancing

INSIDER logoINSIDER 8/19/2020 mhumphries@businessinsider.com (Monica Humphries)
a group of people in a room: Patricia Dovi and Kim Martin put a creative spin on their plastic dividers, which are designed to help their first-grade students maintain a safe distance. Kim Martin/St. Barnabas Episcopal School © Kim Martin/St. Barnabas Episcopal School Patricia Dovi and Kim Martin put a creative spin on their plastic dividers, which are designed to help their first-grade students maintain a safe distance. Kim Martin/St. Barnabas Episcopal School
  • First-grade teachers Patricia Dovi and Kim Martin wanted to turn the tri-fold plastic dividers they were given into something playful for their students.
  • They designed their desks to look like Jeeps, and the plastic dividers function as the cars' windshields and windows.  
  • The dividers are one strategy many schools are employing to keep students safe, but many people are questioning if the partitions will be enough. 
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

First-grade teacher Patricia Dovi will pull up to St. Barnabas Episcopal School in DeLand, Florida, on the first day of school in her Jeep. She'll walk down a hallway and head into her classroom, where she'll be met with 13 mini-Jeeps, which will function as her students' desks for the year.

The Jeeps are a clever approach to help ensure that her students are social distancing in the classroom.

"Anything that we can do to add some silliness and some creativity to get them excited is going to be really important in the longevity of this school year," Dovi told Insider.

The desks feature a three-sided plastic shield and a colorful, laminated car design 

a group of people in a room: Patricia Dovi will be teaching 13 students in person this school year. Patricia Dovi © Provided by INSIDER Patricia Dovi will be teaching 13 students in person this school year. Patricia Dovi

Next door, Kim Martin's classroom is filled with similar desks resembling the popular car. 

The two first-grade teachers share curriculum and learning plans, and this year, their classrooms will both feature the playful desks.

The idea came about when a colleague showed Dovi a similar design from an elementary school teacher in Texas. Dovi, who is obsessed with Jeeps, immediately wanted to re-create the design. 

The school supplied the plexiglass tri-folds, and Dovi and Martin paid for the decorations out of pocket. Martin estimates that the desks took about seven days to complete. With the help of friends and family, each of the students will find their own Jeep waiting for them when they get to school on August 26.

"It's colorful and it just shows the age of innocence," Martin told Insider. "If we can get them to buy into the idea that sitting in a vehicle is really exciting, maybe it won't be so hard to keep them at their desks."

On the first day of class, the students will design their own license plate for their Jeeps. Martin said she's embracing a highway theme and Dovi is implementing outdoor and camping elements throughout her classroom decorations.

The teachers said the goal was to make the plastic dividers more playful and friendly

Patricia Dovi's mother and aunt helped her create the Jeep desks. Patricia Dovi © Patricia Dovi Patricia Dovi's mother and aunt helped her create the Jeep desks. Patricia Dovi

"We were just trying our best to make the room look more kid-appropriate and not so scary," Dovi said.

"It's going to be more fun to say, 'Hey, purple Jeep, you're getting out of your lane,'" Martin added. "I think it will be a smart way to keep the kids engaged."

Mark Allen, the head of Jeep exterior design, said he was impressed by the teachers' imagination and ingenuity. 

"As the 'head crayon and master doodler for Jeep' this makes my heart truly smile," he told Insider. "What a fun and unique way to welcome back students and ease them into a new way of learning. Hats off to the teacher whose creativity is sure to inspire these young minds." 

Preparing for this school year has been 'daunting' for the teachers

First graders will fill Kim Martin's highway-themed classroom this year. Kim Martin © Kim Martin First graders will fill Kim Martin's highway-themed classroom this year. Kim Martin

At St. Barnabas Episcopal School, students and families at the school had a choice between virtual and in-person learning. Dovi will be teaching 17 kids in total and 13 chose the in-person setting. Martin is teaching 18 in-person students and one online.

"Preparing for this year has been daunting, to say the least," Martin said. She's been a teacher for more than 20 years, and she said she's thankful that she can teach her students in person this year.

Both teachers think the partitions will provide some added protection. "But what will it feel like when [the students] are all here?" Martin questioned. 

"I do feel a little better having those shields there, but it also makes me worried for little people to come in and see those there, you know, it's hard," Dovi said.

Schools across the country are currently balancing how to welcome students back into the classroom while keeping them safe. Some argue that plastic dividers will help, but many think they're still not enough. 

However, Martin said the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

"The whole thing is just wrapped in a big box of kindness," Martin said. "We're doing the best we can with social distancing."

If you're a teacher, student, or parent who wants to share their story on what it's like to go back to school right now, get in touch at mhumphries@insider.com.

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