Back to school in the time of COVID-19: How a local educator is preparing for an uncertain year

Outside of the actual dangers of the coronavirus itself, one of the hardest parts of the COVID-19 pandemic is the uncertainty.

Small business owners unsure of when they can or should re-open.

People waiting to hear when they can go back to work and their neighbors forced to find new jobs in a COVID-19 economy.

One of the biggest uncertainties is centered around education. Should kids go back to school for in-person classes full-time, part-time, or not at all?

In higher education, schools like Adrian College and Central Michigan University have already accepted students back on campus and, almost immediately, saw spikes in positive COVID-19 test results.

On a local level, school districts are taking a cautious approach to the upcoming school year, with many of them leaving the decision to the parents.

Parents have the option of sending their kids to school part-time with a supplemental virtual component or having them stay home while taking virtual lessons full-time.

Though things can change as quickly as they did during the last school year, when the pandemic forced schools to shut down all in-person learning, local leaders are primed to do their best under the ever-changing conditions of COVID-19.

Shawn Shackelford, third from right"We’re all going to need to hold hands through this process and to show each other grace. There’s a lot of uncertainty out there," says Shawn Shackelford, principal of Central Middle School in Port Huron.

"I’ll be using these acronyms a lot: IDK and LMD, which means I Don’t Know and Last Minute Decision. And that’s not a bad thing."

That approach should allow Shackelford and his colleagues throughout the region to innovate through challenges as they arrive. It's about staying nimble and being able to quickly respond to any unforeseen circumstances.

For example, parents in the Port Huron Area School District have been given two options for the beginning of this school year. Students can stay at home and participate in an online virtual learning curriculum or they can participate in the hybrid program.

In the latter, students with last names beginning with A through K will attend in-person classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and every other Friday while those with last names L through Z will attend classes on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and every other Friday. The remaining days of the week not spent in school will feature virtual learning sessions.

Since everyone is new at this – students, parents, and educators alike – the district will allow those students enrolled in 100 percent virtual learning courses to switch to the hybrid model up until noon on Friday, Sept. 18.

"This is going to be about listening to parents’ concerns. This year we are going to listen to families even more because of how they’re being impacted by COVID," Shackelford says.

"It’s not so much about academics at this point but making kids feel welcome and safe. It’s a challenge we will have to face but we’re equipped.

"I’m here to serve. I’m a servant leader and I’m here to listen."

Got a development news story to share? Email MJ Galbraith here or send him a tweet @mikegalbraith.

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