By Lauren Brant
Local school districts welcomed staff and students back to the classrooms in August under new protocols in response to the pandemic declared over the novel coronavirus. With over a month of learning under their belts in Delta, district and school personnel say they are pleased with the success of the COVID-19 mitigation protocols.
District personnel spent the summer planning and training for a new learning environment amid a global pandemic before rolling out new COVID-19 mitigation protocols to establish staff and student cohorts and maintain social distancing within the learning environment.
Caryn Gibson, superintendent of Delta County Public Schools, said that while no one could have anticipated these unsettling times, staff has taken on this school year with “creativity, energy and grace while preparing lessons, cleaning our schools, offering nutritious meals, and transporting our students along with many other areas.”
Collaborating with a collective Task Working Group and the Delta County Health Department, DCSD developed a restart plan for the 2020-21 academic year.
“We do believe our Restart Plan has mitigated risk for COVID because we have students and staff in cohorts along with practicing social distancing, washing hands, masks, and screening practices,” Gibson said.
So far this school year, the district has had one staff member and two students who have tested positive for the virus. People who were exposed to those cases were quarantined.
Should future positive cases occur, Gibson said, “DCSD will be in direct communication with the person, families and staff members with any direct exposure to ensure there is no further spread of the virus.
“Our first priority is the safety and welfare of all of our students and staff as well as protect the rights and privacy of all involved.”
Throughout the school year, the district has worked with school administrators to address questions.
Bryan Hollembeak, principal at Hotchkiss High School, said, “The district has been very helpful and attentive to questions that have come up since opening our doors. I know that the nursing services have seen a huge increase in their responsibilities and they have been very helpful.”
Hollembeak said he is thankful for the support from families and the community in following the district’s new procedures.
“People have been great about dropping their kids off and following the screening procedures,” Hollembeak said. “With all of the new distractions and challenges, we just want our families and community to know we are focused on doing our best to serve our students and provide a quality education.”
At Delta High School, principal Derek Carlson said his staff and students have responded well to the hybrid learning model where students alternate between in-person and distance learning.
“Depending on the course being taught, every other day online instruction varies with some classes expected to stay online the entire class period with live instruction via Google Meet,” Carlson said. “Other courses have a check-in process where students get reminders on the expectation for the learning activity or assignment they are to complete that day and they are then allowed to log off and complete it.”
Although the changes can be cause for frustration at times, Carlson said, “We are most proud of our students and staff for their attitude and effort to make this new hybrid format work.”
He has seen students positively affected by increased student-teacher feedback and attention with the small class sizes and 60-minute class periods, instead of 50 minutes. Teachers’ schedules have adjusted to move their planning period to the end of the day, which Carlson said has reduced teachers’ overall time by 30 minutes a day.
In addition to teaching course materials, Carlson said teachers are using the pandemic as a teachable moment.
“We can all respond to difficult circumstances and do things that are different and hard,” he said. “We know that we will learn throughout this experience and come out on the other side stronger and wiser.”
As the district continues to navigate the school year under the shifting impacts caused by the pandemic, Gibson said the staff will continue to educate students.
“Life seems to be constantly throwing us curveballs, and they adjust to doing whatever it takes to support each other and our students,” she said. “Although there may be uncertainties ahead, we have set out to make the most out of this school year for our students.”
Lauren Brant is a staff writer and digital content coordinator for the Delta County Independent.