After almost three months of learning from home, some of our students have had the opportunity to return to the classroom for summer school. These students were excited to see their teacher and classmates in person rather than through a virtual classroom, and teachers and staff were equally excited to see students. Unfortunately, the pandemic does not allow for hugs or high fives, but the mere opportunity to have in-person learning fills the heart and soul.
For the past three weeks, close to 300 students in first through eighth grade have been filling summer school classrooms on an every other day basis. On the alternate days, students complete class assignments and enrich their learning at home. This hybrid model allows for fewer students on buses and in classrooms, all in an effort to ensure proper physical distancing.
An equal number of students in grades nine through twelve have been taking online courses this summer in order to stay on track for graduation. While we would prefer to have high school students in person and in the classroom, robust and effective online tools enable students to participate in virtual discussions, presentations, and assessments. I am impressed by the teacher’s creativity and determination as they prepare meaningful lessons for their students. Students’ grit and resilience during this unprecedented time is remarkable.
I wish I could say that we will be back to normal at the start of the new school year. We all know, however, that this is not likely. So many questions remain unanswered: will students be back in the classroom in the fall? Will there be fall sports and the fall musical? How do we support learning for students who need to remain home for medical reasons?
While we wait for further guidance from the governor and the commissioner of education, we are monitoring the success of the hybrid summer school model where students are coming to school every other day. A 30-person planning committee has been meeting weekly this summer to plan for three possible school scenarios: in-person learning, hybrid learning with in-person and distance learning, and distance learning for all students. The task of this committee, composed of parents, students, teachers, and administrators, is to fully prepare for each of these scenarios as it is possible that we may need to implement different models at different times during the school year.
As we plan for the fall, I agonize over the impact our decision will have on families, students, and our staff. We will continue to take our guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Education. We are planning with the best interest of our students and families in mind and we sincerely appreciate their patience and understanding as we plan for the new school year. By the end of July, we expect Governor Walz to give schools an indication of which learning model to implement at the start of the school year. Once this direction is provided, we will share our plans with families and the community.
Steve Massey is the superintendent of the Forest Lake Area School District.