With new Minnesota Departments of Education and Health guidelines to follow, the Wadena-Deer Creek principals and staff members have been preparing for all options of in-person, hybrid and distance learning, which is a challenge middle high school principal Tyler Church said. The district could have to transition between these options based on COVID-19 cases per 10,000 in Wadena County over a two week period. But even with the guidelines and challenges, the principals are always thinking of their students, including times of possible contact with coronavirus particles as elementary principal Louis Rutten said.
“It’s just been when you think you have everything figured out then someone says well what about this? How are you going to use the lockers, and so then you got to tweak that,” Church said.
The ideas come as conversations roll through and staff members dedicate time to planning the details, like the wrestling room as a classroom, adding a third and a fourth grade class and class cohorts for kindergarten to eighth grade students.
Rutten said kindergarten to fourth grade students will remain in their classroom the whole day with extra time outside encouraged. Art and music teachers will go to classrooms and physical education teachers will have a bag of items per cohort though students will leave the room for P.E. Special education and Title I services will also remain in the students’ classroom with all teachers having Title I training instead of specified Title I teachers, according to Rutten.
Both schools will follow the district back to school plan with the biggest differences being breakfast and lunch processes. Elementary school students will have breakfast delivered to their rooms and alternate between eating in their classrooms and the cafeteria for lunch. Middle high school students will pick up their breakfast and eat in their rooms and for lunch eat in the cafeteria or gym. The tables will be set up for 50% capacity or with plexiglass at both schools, according to the plan.
“I look forward to having our teachers take advantage of that connection in the morning, that’s going to be I think probably a little nicer start than having them all herd up in the cafeteria like we have done. It gets kind of noisy in there for them and this might be a little quieter way of starting their day, especially for our preschoolers and kindergarteners and first graders,” Rutten said.
Rutten also sees social-emotional health conversations with the cohorts as a benefit. Teachers have had Adverse Childhood Experiences training and used the MindUp curriculum over the past few years, which provides students and staff with signs of anxiety as well as brain exercises and calming activities, according to Rutten.
The social-emotional support students can receive at school is one reason parents have wanted in-person learning. Church said this support is “huge” and middle high school counselors and social workers are working on ways to be in the classrooms more.
“A lot of our kids they rely ... on being here to be with friends and then to get adult support when it comes to mental health, health and things like that, so that’s huge,” Church said.
Church and Rutten said their staffs are also aware of the potential loss in learning from the 2019-20 school year ending with distance learning and will spend extra time reviewing. This loss is an extended version of the ‘summer slide.’
“My staff has said we’re going to take them where they’re at, we do that every year regardless, but this year with that understanding of, ‘Hey we didn’t really finish like we wanted to’ so we’re going to do a lot of classwide interventions,” Rutten said. “Just to make sure we’re giving people the grace to get back into the swing of schooling in-person.”
While the district selected in-person learning to start the year, about 60 students between the two schools will start with distance learning due to health concerns. The main lesson from distance learning in the spring is consistent personal connections, which originally weren’t included well, as Rutten and Church said.
“Even if they’re choosing to be at home, they still want to see their teacher so we’re definitely going to do more live streaming, more of the kids staying at home being able to see what’s specifically going on in the classroom,” Church said.
Another distance learning change is creating a common landing page for parents to access teachers’ webpages. Parents would visit one central page for a list of all the teachers rather than navigating several different pages, though the middle high school will continue with Google Classroom and the elementary school with Seesaw.
Throughout the learning options, Church said relationships and flexibility are key.
“I’m just stressing flexibility with our teachers this year. You’ve just got to be as flexible as possible because … school’s not going to work this year if you’re not flexible,” Church said. “They’ve done a great job.”
If you are interested in distance learning, email elementary principal Louis Rutten at firstname.lastname@example.org or middle high school principal Tyler Church at email@example.com. If you have signed up for distance learning, issuing devices and going over expectations will be on Sept. 2.