The Superior School District has been prepping for months to welcome students back to class.
The physical work has involved removing furniture, spacing desks, reutilizing rooms, building plexiglass dividers, adding signage, setting up sanitizer stations and more. New devices to allow for one-to-one learning were activated. Plans, procedures and safety measures for learning in the midst of a pandemic were decided.
“It’s been the busiest summer of my career,” said District Administrator Amy Starzecki.
Teachers returned to the school buildings this week for training.
“There’s been a lot of thought and a lot of time put into the plans for keeping staff and students safe,” said Adam Kuhlman, a technical education teacher at Superior High School. “I’ve got two students in the district of my own and seeing all the work that’s gone into it makes me feel pretty comfortable sending them back.”
Kindergarten families visited Great Lakes Elementary classrooms this week to see the space and meet teachers. The kids were excited and parents gave positive comments, said kindergarten teacher Rose Gross.
The educational structure will also look different this year, with elementary school students in the classroom four days a week. Students at Superior high and middle schools will be split into two cohorts. Each will attend in-person classes two days a week and learn virtually the other three. Teachers need to be able to support students who are home sick and ready to make the move to all-virtual learning if local COVID-19 cases spike.
Educators met in small groups this week to learn about best practice ways to deliver online instruction and create a virtual classroom.
“It feels good to have to problem solve and have discussions,” said Nancy Benner, a third grade teacher at Cooper Elementary School, after a summer of mulling challenges and solutions.
Key words for the year are flexible and pivot, said Jenni Wolfe, a second-grade teacher at Northern Lights Elementary School.
“This is probably my hardest year,” said Wolfe, who is entering her 27th year as an educator. “I feel like a first-year teacher again.”
Building strong relationships with students at the beginning of the year and getting them online consistently and independently are crucial, Benner said, “so when and if we have to pivot to distance learning, we’re ready and able.”
Wolfe got a lesson in flexibility Tuesday when her training group lost power in the middle of a test. They went to a friend’s garage to finish it.
Teachers are also encouraged to bring class outside whenever possible. It offers students a break from wearing masks and provides a fresh-air setting for learning.
Elementary school supplies will no longer be shared — each student will have their own materials — and lunch will be eaten in classrooms at elementary schools.
When the SHS technical education teachers met this week, they focused on flipping classes to provide students as much instruction and tutorial material as possible virtually.
“So when they’re in the class for two days or in the shop for two days they’re ready to work and get those hands-on learning opportunities,” Kuhlman said.
Students may utilize more of the machines that require computer programming, like the 3-D printers, vinyl cutter, Computer Numerical Control (CNC) router and plasma cutter.
The smaller class sizes needed for social distancing may help offset the move to the hybrid schedule because students will spend less time waiting for tools, Kuhlman said.
“We might almost break even, I’m hoping, as far as being able to interact with students and give them some feedback and spend quality time with them when they’re in person,” he said.
Teachers said they were excited to get back to the classroom.
Wolfe saw two of her students over the weekend out in the community, and she said “it filled my soul.”
Much like everyone else, educators have questions about how the year is going to go. While they are excited to get back in the classroom with students, they share many of the same anxieties and concerns parents have, Benner said.
“But we’re here for your kids and we’re doing the best we can … we’re in this together and we’re working really hard for your student and we really want the best for them,” she said.
“We’re all just going to have grace with one another,” Wolfe said. “We all have a lot to learn.”
Communication will also be a key component of this year’s hybrid learning model. Starzecki has been sending out information to families to prepare them for the changes. Parents are encouraged to contact their child’s teacher or principal if they have questions or concerns. Visit the district website for more information.