Looking Forward

By. Teresa Marchant

My phone vibrated on the coffee table… The caller ID displayed “Superintendent”.  The Governor had just held a press conference announcing the closure of schools in Montana. I grabbed my phone and took a deep breath…

In some ways, this past year has been a blur, in other ways it has felt like ten years. Since last spring, I have been an active participant in the “Task Force” that decides how our district will return to school safely. We are classified as a rural Title 1 school that has 50% free/reduced lunch count.

Beginning in the fall, our district approved a hybrid model with each school designing their own schedule. In my school, our students were on campus for three hours a day with the additional lessons taught online. Our students were progressing academically as reported on our winter assessments. Not only did the “gap” or “covid slide” get filled, but they have exceeded previous years’ growth.

However, our School Board met last week and decided it was in our students’ best interest to return to school four days a week for the remainder of the year. The decision to have our students return to school was not for academic reasons; it was for their social and emotional well-being. It’s understandable. With so much time online, and many are home alone, students are struggling to pick up on social cues. Many of our parents indicated that their child is dealing with loneliness and depression. By increasing the number of hours a student will be on campus and partnering with the non-profit Parentguidance.org to provide parents with tools and resources to help their child, our School Board hopes to alleviate parent concerns.

Next year, we can anticipate that we will have all students back five days a week. How do I feel about next year? I’m nervous. Teachers are currently waiting on access to a vaccination since our new Governor pushed educators down the prioritized list of recipients below the largest population needing to be vaccinated first. If teachers are not vaccinated, students would then be required to wear masks all day per district policy since social distancing will be difficult with large class sizes.

As we look towards the future and school next year, we will still be dealing with the aftermath of COVID-19. We will be entering a new era called Post-COVID. Stakeholders can offer solutions to schools that are facing these unprecedented times. They can also provide resources that help teach students how to self-regulate and interact safely with others. Items such as dividers and clear shields allow students to see facial expressions and anchor posters that promote self-regulation skills will continue to be helpful. There will still be a heightened concern about germs and keeping students safe. Having resources available will offset the daunting task of educating the “whole” child the “whole” time.

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