Hybrid model mixes in class, online elements

Kelly Tschudy-Lafean, Principal at Forest Lake Area Community School, and her staff are putting together the final details for summer school for the Forest Lake system, which also provides summer instruction for students from Lakes International Language Academy and North Lakes Academy.

“These days I think I dream details,” Tschudy-Lafean said.. “Today I ordered colored pencils and Ziploc bags. You have to think about every detail in a situation like this if you want to be successful.”

Those plans have been in flux in recent weeks thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Only when Gov. Tim Walz announced on May 14 that schools around the state could open on a limited basis for summer school could Forest Lake put together a comprehensive plan.

“We can plan everything, and we hope that we will be successful because of our planning,” Tschudy-Lafean said. “But when the criteria change, that makes planning difficult.”

That planning, she added, covered a variety of areas, but always circled back to one element.

“First and foremost, what comes to my mind is safety,” Tschudy-Lafean said. “We have to make sure we have a safe learning environment based on the guidelines of the CDC and Minnesota Department of Education. And we need to rebuild our relationships with students that we haven’t had for the past weeks and months.”

Summer school in 2020 will be different on several levels. Tschudy-Lafean said in years past the program has served roughly 800 students in grades K-12, but this year approximately 300 kids from kindergarten to eighth grade and roughly 180 student in credit recovery at the high school level are expected to take part.

Many school systems have chosen not to offer targeted services over the summer because of the complications caused the pandemic.

Forest Lake will offer a hybrid model that includes one day with teachers and one day in home study.

“We believe the hybrid model is a model that allows kids to get direct instruction from a teacher,” Tschudy-Lafean said. “We know that, for a student to make progress, they need to be in front of their instructor.”

Superintendent Steve Massey supports the hybrid model because it offers a chance for a direct connection between teachers and students.

“That’s especially true for the younger grades, where in-person interaction gives teachers a better sense that students are learning concepts,” he said. “Teachers also can determine the areas where students still have concerns. That’s hard to gauge in distance learning.”

Students involved in Forest Lake’s hybrid model will be split into two groups named Maroon and Gold. On Maroon days those students will be in the building, while the Gold students will work from home; on Gold days those positions will be reversed. Classes will have up to 18 students, with nine students in the building each day and the other nine working from home.

Summer school for children from kindergarten through eighth grade will start on Monday, June 22, and end on Wednesday, July 24. Classroom learning for students up to sixth grade will take place at Forest View Elementary, while junior high students will work at the Education Center.

High school students will start classes on Monday, June 15, and end on Wednesday, July 15, at the high school.

In all cases there will be no school on Friday, July 3, in honor of the Fourth of July holiday.

Those 24 days of instruction will focus primarily on literacy and math, but also will include a social emotional learning element through Second Step, which is recommended by the Minnesota Department of Education.

“I think a lot of people don’t realize that this situation has been traumatizing, especially for our little ones,” Tschudy-Lafean said. “As schools, our No. 1 goal is to build positive relationships with kids. They have to feel safe and comfortable in their environment, and that piece has been lacking because we haven’t had contact with our kids.

“But it’s not just the little kids. And it’s our teachers, too – that’s why we went into this career, to connect with kids.”

Tschudy-Lafean said the program will include a great deal of outdoor learning when practical.

“The CDC and the MDE have encouraged us to do a lot of outdoor learning because it’s healthy,” she said. “So we’ll set up outdoor learning stations.”

The summer school program also will provide a breakfast at the start of the class day and a bag lunch to eat when instruction ends at noon. There still are details to be ironed out, most notably lining up staff to teach the classes.

“Some teachers are concerned about their health,” Tschudy-Lafean said.

With the current uncertainty as to how schools will operate in the fall, Tschudy-Lafean said the summer school program might provide a potential model should schools not open in September.

“We’re hopeful that this model may be something we can follow when we open up schools in the fall, depending on what that looks like,” she said.

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