Teachers and administrators in the St. Michael-Albertville school district, like all others in the state, have spent the past 10 days in a whirlwind of preparation, as the schools plan to spend at least the next five weeks teaching students in a wholly unfamiliar way.
What Has Happened So Far
In this time, the school district has set up child care for students whose parents are emergency and medical workers, and a school lunch program where all students are welcome to drive up and receive a free lunch from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. each weekday at both Fieldstone Elementary and Middle School East. All students receiving a lunch must be present in the vehicle to receive the meal, which also includes a breakfast for the following morning.
By the end of this week, all 6,500 students in the STMA school district have picked up their belongings from the schools and material they will need for trimester three. School staff cleaned out the lockers and/or desks of every student at the primary, elementary, and high school level and bagged up belongings and learning materials.
At Albertville Primary and the three elementary schools, one parent was allowed to enter the school to pick up the items late last week. The high school implemented a drive-through strategy, where staff had all items ready and waiting at an assigned pick-up time and door. At the middle level, parents signed their students up for a 20-minute time slot where the student could enter the school and retrieve their belongings. They limited each time slot to 30 students per building.
Additionally, schools are lending families Chromebooks and hotspots where needed to ensure students have the necessary connectivity for distance learning, which will heavily feature Google Classroom, and SeeSaw at younger ages. Specific building levels and teachers will use a variety of other online resources as well.
STMA district officials have set up a page on the district website specifically to update students and families of anything related to COVID-19 and the school closures. The page includes answers to frequently asked questions (FAQ), and an email address for families to ask COVID-19 related questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Families should reach out to a child’s school for student-specific learning and support questions.
District staff put these plans in place without a clear understanding of when or how schools will return to a more normal format, but Governor Tim Walz gave some clarity in his address to Minnesotans Wednesday afternoon, when he declared Minnesota schools would remain closed through May 4. If the current plan holds, schools should re-open their doors on Tuesday, May 5. Superintendent Dr. Ann-Marie Foucault said she is participating in a daily conference call with the Commissioner of Education and other superintendents to stay abreast of any changes and updates.
Distance Learning Begins Monday
Starting Monday, students from preschool through seniors will begin receiving daily education support and assignments from their classroom teachers and specialists such as music, media center and PE. Distance learning will include a combination of paper packets or worksheets, textbooks, telephone, and online resources.
Detailed information on distance learning at each level can be found on the district’s COVID-19 Distance Learning Plan. At this time, this plan references the school bus picking up and dropping off materials on Monday mornings, but that plan has been altered due to the two-week shelter in place declaration, which goes into effect at 11:59 p.m. tonight. Teachers will provide specific guidance where needed to work through this new restriction.
The district will follow normal absence policies for students who become ill or cannot complete distance learning for a school day, where a parent must email or call the school’s attendance line to explain the child’s absence and work will be made up upon return to health. Middle and high school students will be expected to be present for distance learning at 9 a.m. each school day, and attendance will be taken by teachers assigning an attendance activity each morning. This will vary by teacher and could be a daily task, reporting progress on a larger task, collecting an assignment, etc.
Elementary age and younger will take attendance with a parent’s initials on a distance learning assignment board, shared through SeeSaw or other means communicated by specific teachers.
Dr. Foucault said she understands and empathizes with the uncertainty families are facing at this time, but she said they cannot yet give firm updates on big end-of-the-year events that typically take place, such as concerts, student recognitions, social events, and graduation.
“We were trying to get through the eight-day planning period before making decisions on these types of events,” she said. “However, since the Governor’s announcement we are discussing these events. As soon as we know more, we will post on the COVID-19 page.”
Statewide assessments like the MCA, MTA, Access and Alternative Access have been canceled for this school year, and STMA will not hold its school-wide ACT testing day. The Minnesota Department of Education will provide additional guidance to school districts on this topic no later than the beginning of next school year. The district has not yet made a decision on local end-of-the-year assessments such as FAST and NWEA. Foucault said families will be notified when a decision is made.
Foucault said she didn’t anticipate school going further into June than the scheduled end date of June 4. She said the district’s distance learning program will qualify as fulfilling their obligation for high quality instruction for all students, and they plan to end the year as scheduled.
“It’s sad,” Foucault said after last week’s school board meeting, when the closures were fresh and teachers had not yet returned to work. “You’ve got graduating seniors, and students who are missing out on a lot of things. There’s a lot of things that are hard. But we have a wonderful administrative team that is fabulous. We have very creative paras, food service staff, custodians, teachers, administrators, and they’re all going to work together. We have a lot of ideas, and I know if we give them the foundation, they’ll build it. It’s not going to be as great as being in school, of course, but we’re going to provide high quality learning experiences for the kids.”
Community Education, which typically releases its summer camp and activities catalog in March, said they will delay delivery of the summer catalog until April 13th, with registration now set to begin Wednesday, April 22nd.