Rush City Schools may have found a way to bridge the gap between distance learning and in-person education.

The solution? Do both at the same time.

Rush City’s program for opening schools this fall will see students in all grades come to their classrooms on Monday and Tuesdays. Then everyone will take part in a distance learning day on Wednesday, followed by two more days in the classroom on Thursday and Friday.

Rush City Interim Superintendent Brent Stavig hopes this relatively unique process will bridge the gap between students who are in their classrooms and those who are learning from home.

“One of the most important things is to make sure we are engaging all learners, whether they are involved in distance learning or are learning in person,” he said.

Stavig said the percentage of the Rush City school population expected to use distance learning this fall is 15-18%, but that is a number that may change over the course of the school year. And Stavig said his family provides a perfect example of how that percentage might change.

His wife, Laura, is a paraprofessional at C.E. Jacobson Elementary, and the couple have four children: two in the elementary building and two in the high school. That means the family has six connections to Rush City Schools.

“If one of my children comes down with symptoms that align with the exclusionary guidelines, where they have to be out of school for 10 days, their siblings have to be out of school for 14 days, even though they’re not showing symptoms,” Stavig explained. “The reason behind that is because of the incubation period for the virus; they may have contracted the virus, but they’re not showing symptoms yet.

“In my example, if my children have to stay at home, they will be doing their assignments in the exact same way, through the exact same platform with the exact same teacher, as they would be if they were in the building. When they are done with those 14 days, they will transition right back into school and theoretically will not have skipped a beat.”

The idea behind everyone working from home on Wednesday — “Wednesday will have work to be done and lessons to engage. They just will be done remotely,” Stavig stressed — is to reaffirm the bridge between teachers and students who are not in the classroom during the other days of the week.

“The primary purpose is to ensure that teachers are reaching out to students in their classes that are distance learning,” Stavig said. “It also provides time for teachers to build more distance-learning lessons, so they may be doing recordings during that time.

“And let’s say a student at home learns the concept on Wednesday through watching a video that a teacher has created and demonstrates to the teacher on Thursday in the classroom that they understand it. The teacher could give that student enrichment activities that would take that student to the next level, while giving attention to the student still working to understand the concept.”

Stavig was quick to praise the school staff for their work in making the proposed formula work.

“There are models that would be easier for our staff, but the staff understands the benefits of keeping our students engaged with our teachers,” he said. “That social and emotional component is essential to our plan. We’re keeping our relationships intact.”

There is no guarantee that this model will be used for the entire school year.

If Chisago County’s COVID-19 case rate per 10,000 people rises about 10, the Rush City School District will transition to a model where elementary students remain “in person” while the high school becomes a true “hybrid” model.

In that model there are two groups of students, the “Blue” and “Gold” students. In that plan, Blue students will be in the building on Monday and Tuesday, then participating in distance learning on Wednesday through Friday, while the Gold students will distance learn on Monday through Wednesday, then enter the building for classes on Thursday and Friday.

Currently this model is not in place, because on Aug. 8, Chisago County’s case rate was 7.86, down from the 8.95 mark one week earlier.

“A lot of the hybrid plans we looked at including having the kids come in every week: Blue kids one week, Gold kids the next,” Stavig said. “We heard loud and clear from the community that they wanted their kids in the building at least every week. We made several decisions based on what the community told us they wanted.

“And as a community school, that’s what we’re supposed to do. We need to meet the needs of family while developing the best instructional program we can.”

Stavig said the school system is motivated to listen to the desires of the community because townsfolk have been supportive of the work staff and administrators have done.

“I just cannot say enough about how supportive the community, the staff and the school board have been,” he said. “I couldn’t be happier with how everything has come together. It’s refreshing, and it’s motivating to our staff to see the community supports their work.”

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