First day of school: Algoma, Kewaunee districts report no major problems
KEWAUNEE COUNTY – Given all the changes and uncertainty school systems are facing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, superintendents of the Algoma and Kewaunee school districts said the first day of the 2020-21 year — the first they were allowed to have students in their classrooms since March 18 — went as well as could be expected.
March 18 was the date all Wisconsin schools were closed as part of the state's safer-at-home order, and shifted to teaching students through online classes for the rest of the school year.
But with the order called off and plans in place that school districts were able to work on throughout the summer, Algoma welcomed back the students who opted for in-person classes Monday, the first school day of its calendar, and Kewaunee did the same Tuesday.
And after that first day under the "new normal," the superintendents for those schools reported no noteworthy glitches or obstacles as seating in classrooms was socially distanced, face masks were required wear for students and staff alike, and the usual jumble of hallway traffic and children grouping together was minimized as much as possible.
"On all accounts, it went pretty smoothly," said Nick Cochart, superintendent of the Algoma School District. "The students were great, the teachers were great. The parents were great. Right now there are no real logistical things we have to improve on. We turned a difficult situation into a really good day.
"I think a lot of people are excited to be back. The students are excited, the educators are excited. We understand it's a challenge. Is it a perfect thing? No, not by any stretch of the imagination. But I think people recognize we put forth a lot of effort to meet the needs of all our students."
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Kewaunee Superintendent Karen Treml also said the first day went “really well" and noted the students paid attention to the health precautions. Treml said she thinks all ages likely have become acclimated to masks over the past couple of months.
"Our kids were just amazing," Treml said. "From the littlest learners to our oldest students, they really tolerated it and kept their masks on. It's different and new, but the kids knew. Everyone is so excited to have the kids back in person."
Cochart said about 75% of Algoma's 715 students are returning for in-person classes, while Treml said about 93% of Kewaunee's 962 students are back in school.
While students are wearing masks, frequently sanitizing hands and sitting far enough apart in their rooms, both districts also implemented changes in how they bring students into and out of their buildings to further prevent large gatherings.
Kewaunee had a staff member manning each entrance to guide students to where they needed to go and keep things moving. It also is staggering the release of its students at the end of the day, with one group leaving at 3 p.m., the next at 3:05 and the last at 3:10. Buses have assigned seating, require all riders to wear masks and sanitize hands, and temporarily have a staff member riding aboard each of the nine buses to supervise.
Algoma changed its bus routes to have two buses drop off students first, with a third 20 minutes later, to streamline entry.
Algoma also switched from the usual seven class periods during the school day to a four-block day, again to keep traffic between classes more manageable. Core classes are held in the morning with electives in the afternoon, and lunch is served in whatever room the students are in for their second block. Cochart said it actually may be a benefit because it gives some students a chance to try different electives they otherwise might not.
"We need to keep the kids in the same covert as much as possible (to) minimize movement throughout the day," Cochart said.
The only unexpected glitch Cochart said he encountered on the first day was more of a scheduling issue that showed some elective classes as full, except they weren't because some of the enrolled students were taking those classes virtually so there was room in the classroom.
"I just chalk it up to adjusting to how things are going to work," Cochart said.
Treml said the main issue for Kewaunee isn't something that happened Tuesday. The district has about 500 Google Chromebooks, which it's distributing to students for virtual classes, on back order because supplies are low and schools across the country are ordering them for the same reason. Treml said the Chromebooks the school had on hand were distributed to students who needed them immediately, but the rest are needed in case a virus surge causes another school shutdown.
For similar reasons, the water stations the district ordered (to allow students to fill water bottles and take the place of drinking fountains) also are on back order.
"It's a sign of the times," Treml said.
Of course, more changes could be on the way when the public health situation changes. Treml said Kewaunee has scheduled one virtual-only day each month for the first semester to remind all its students how that works, in case the school needs to close again.
"For everyone in education right now, everything is different. It definitely will be a challenge," she said.
Cochart said the important part is continuing to get feedback and understanding from his students and their parents, as they did when Algoma staff drew up their current plan.
"Obviously, we're in some really unprecedented times," Cochart said. "It helps when people work collaboratively. We're fortunate to have students, parents and staff who work to make this happen."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: First day of school: Algoma, Kewaunee districts report no major problems