It has been a long few months for the Little Falls School District’s administrative team. Principals, teachers and others have struggled with how school will be done this fall. At Monday’s School Board meeting, the Little Falls School Board approved in-person learning with the offer of distance learning to students who prefer it.
In many ways, what makes the Little Falls District stand out is that it is using the current COVID situation as an opportunity to launch the district into what they would like school to be in the future.
“It is the direction we are going in. We would have been there in two or three years anyway, so this is a natural progression,” Supt. Stephen Jones said.
Jones said he is hopeful with how it will all turn out.
At Monday’s meeting, the principals of the different schools in the district presented a brief update on where each are at in the planning of the 2020 school year.
Early Childhood Coordinator Stacy Gold said she doesn’t foresee too much changing when it comes to preschool and Early Childhood Education (ECFE) as they are, in a way, already operating in a hybrid model and have already designed the classes at 50% capacity.
Some of the changes ECFE is looking at are their start and end times to avoid people coming and going at the same time.
The teachers are also considering ways to interact with the children so they can still see their smiles and other facial expressions.
“It is important for children to see faces for social-emotional development,” she said.
Gold also anticipates for ECFE to operate as normal, but in a smaller group size.
“Parents are very hungry for getting back together, needing that support,” she said.
One thing that has been on the wish-list for a while has been to get a new playground. Because of COVID, social distancing guidelines and the health benefit of being outside as much as possible, a new playground has become even more important, she said.
Couple with savings and with the help of money from the district and others, Gold said a new playground will be installed by Oct. 1.
Larry Edgerton, principal for Lincoln Elementary School in Little Falls and Dr. S.G. Knight Elementary School in Randall, said he is doing what he can to operate both schools in as much of a similar fashion as possible to make it easier.
“I do it for my own sanity,” he said.
Edgerton said that lately he and the others at both schools have been busy working on putting together home room lists. One of the goals is to have it set up so if the district has to move to a hybrid model, the classes will already be divided to about the same number of students attending on “A days” as on “B days.”
As the Minnesota Department of Education and Gov. Tim Walz have mandated that all students wear a face covering whenever they are in a school building, the district has been focusing on different ways that may help students who struggle with a face covering. One example is a shield that can be attached to a baseball cap.
“Maybe it will work for our kids who will struggle with constantly wearing a mask. Will they wear a baseball cap with a shield?” Jones said.
Edgerton said at the same, there is about a dozen students at Lincoln Elementary School and about a handful at Dr. S.G. Knight Elementary School whose parents are opting for distance learning.
“You think it’s out of health concern (for COVID), but a lot of it comes down to that they don’t want their kids to wear masks in school,” Edgerton said.
Rusty Gwost, principal at Lindbergh Elementary School in Little Falls is looking forward to having students back and is hopeful that together, they can all make a difference in the students’ lives. He also hopes that reuniting for in-person learning will give the teachers and other staff a chance to build up the relationships with the students even more. That way, if the district is forced to move to distance learning again, the connections have already been established. It helps all involved, he said.
As the Lindbergh Elementary School provides several large spaces, Gwost is confident that social distancing and moving classes around will be relatively easily accomplished. All it takes is some mindful planning, he said.
Principal Wade Mathers said that students at the Little Falls Community Middle School will see a few changes.
The students will enter either through the entrance by the commons or by the office. Upon entering, as with all the schools, all students and staff will go through a temperature scanner to ensure they don’t have a fever.
Instead of gathering in the commons, students will report to advisory right away. While the first breakfast has been eliminated, students will have an opportunity to eat at “second breakfast.”
Lunch has been divided into three sections to allow for more social distancing.
Students will also not be able to use the lockers for in between classes, but instead will be directed to carry their backpack with them, Mathers said.
Little Falls Community High School Principal Tim Bjorge is looking forward to the new school year and to see students once again fill the halls.
The administrative team, teachers and others at the high school, along with the staff at the other schools, are working on posting various signs that encourage social distancing and other measures that will help keep students and staff safe and mindful of one another.
All schools are also planning to utilize the outdoors as much as possible for instruction, recess and other gatherings, adding more picnic tables. In addition, Bjorge has requested large tents from Camp Ripley for use at the high school.
“We’re trying to create as many outdoor opportunities as we can. It isn’t surprising what this community is pulling together,” he said.
Moving to a credit based system, Bjorge said high school students will have the opportunity to chose how many credits they would like in a specific class, whether half a credit, one or two when studying.
“By doing that, that may potentially free up the number of classes they have each day,” he said.
Little Falls School Board Briefs
In other business, Monday, the Little Falls School Board:
• Accepted the following donations: $500 from Woltjer & Associates for the Little Falls FFA program and $2,000 from the Randall-Cushing Lions Club to the Randall Scholarship Fund; and
• Approved the 2020-21 handbooks.
The Little Falls School Board’s next regular meeting will be Monday, Sept. 21, at 5 p.m. in the media center at the Little Falls Community Middle School.