School Leaders Express Thoughts on Effects of Pandemic

By Doris Elmore
Staff Writer

The past few weeks have been very challenging for students, teachers, and other school personnel, and especially for parents. Actually, it has been a difficult year, or at least the past few months for everyone.

In this article we are addressing the superintendents and principals of ALAH CUSD #305, Bement CUSD #5 and Cerro Gordo CUSD #100. We reached out to each of them with the following questions:

1. How do you think the students are coping/responding during this time of Social Distancing?

2. Your thoughts on how this has affected the students and their learning?

3. What have you been doing as a family during this time?

4. How do you think this will affect next year?

5. Anything you want to tell the parents, along with the members of the communities in the school district?

6. What effect will this have on the Jr. High students going on to high school? What effect will this have on the seniors?

The following is the article received from ALAH Supt. Shannon Cheek on behalf of himself and ALAH High School Principal Steffanie Seegmiller, Arthur Grade School Principal Sage Hale and Lovington Grade School Principal Brandon Stone.

“Mid-March usually brings with it a level of excitement for many reasons. Warmer weather is on the way, plans for graduations are starting to take place both for our seniors and our 8th graders, spring sports teams are beginning their preparations for the upcoming seasons and there is a general excitement of the approaching summer months. Mid-March painted a very different picture for all of us in 2020, so I wanted to reflect and share some thoughts related to the recent pandemic and its impact on Arthur CUSD #305, its students, staff, communities and families.

I want to begin with a huge shout out and thank you to the students, staff, parents, board members and communities that we serve. I have witnessed so much compassion, and genuine care for each other. I am amazed at the ability to be flexible and the support that has been provided for all during these trying times. We have been asked to reinvent how we educate and take care of our students virtually overnight, and I couldn’t be more proud of the results. It’s been said many times that it takes a village to help raise our children, and this situation has validated the truth behind that statement. It has taken all of our communities to help us develop and execute a plan that would first and foremost take care of the basic needs of our families as well as continue to provide learning opportunities for all students at all grade levels.

There is no doubt that we have all been impacted by the social distancing and stay at home orders that have been implemented. With those restrictions have come challenges, but also opportunities. I have heard comments of how being required to stay home has developed a newfound appreciation for our relationships and friendships. I’ve also consistently witnessed people reaching out to support each other during these trying times and making it a priority to demonstrate that support in various ways.

There is little doubt that learning has been impacted and that moving ahead will pose challenges. What I have learned and observed is that yes, learning has been impacted but it’s also provided us an opportunity to rethink how we learn and how we present material to students. I anticipate moving forward we will continue those conversations and develop methods and strategies that will better serve our students and families.

I could not have predicted my first year in the district as your Superintendent to finish like this. It has posed challenges we would rather not have encountered, but it has provided me with a different perspective. We all have defining moments and this pandemic has created some for myself. My perspective is that we have been challenged but have come together as one and are going to conquer this challenge. Many challenges still lie ahead for all of us, but I am confident that we will persevere and conquer all that is put in front of us because we are Arthur CUSD #305. I am proud of you all and couldn’t be more proud to be your Superintendent.”

Kristin Nall is principal of the A-H Grade School/Jr. High. This is her story on how the pandemic has affected her, her teachers and staff.

“On Friday, March 13, I was not prepared to tell my staff, my students, or even my own children that we would not be returning to school. We met as a staff shortly after school to discuss the possibility of schools shutting down with the thought that we would be returning on Monday. About five minutes after that meeting the Governor made his first announcement of schools shutting down. I, along with many other Americans, was in disbelief that something like COVID-19 was happening to us. I spent many hours thinking about whether things were being blown out of proportion or whether this was “fake” news. This was the beginning of COVID-19 for me.

That weekend our administrative team met and discussed what the Governor’s announcement meant for our school. From the very beginning the administrative team and school board was very clear in what we wanted for our district. Our main goal was to make sure our students were taken care of, nutritionally and mentally. We wanted the parents of our students to know that we were going to be a team. We wanted our faculty and staff to know they had our support. Mostly we wanted everyone to know we would work through this together.

The past 4 weeks I feel our district has done what they set out to do. As a district we have served over 15,000 meals to our students. We have provided remote learning packets that we feel will help engage our students but not overwhelm them or their parents. Teachers, parents, and students have learned to use things such as Google Meet and Google Classroom to connect with each other. Emails and phone calls are being made daily. We have shown our parents and our students that amidst this storm we are still there. We miss our students, we love them, and we will keep working for them.

I want my 8th grade students to know that their accomplishments in our school were seen. I want them to know how excited we are for them to transition into high school. We cannot wait to see what they achieve over the next 4 years. I want teachers that are retiring to know that

I feel their struggle and their pain with the way the year is ending. This is not how you were supposed to finish your career. I want them to be able to have the closure they deserve. I feel very positive that we will be able to make these moments for these students and teachers.

When this is over we will be stronger.

Along with all of this I have had the weight of my own children as well. Every student is missing out on activities that they would have normally been a part of. For my life that meant High School Track, Band, Competitive Dance, and Club Volleyball was on hold. Our entire personal lives were turned upside down the second a Shelter in Place happened. My doubts of the seriousness of this virus were no longer doubts and the fear of what this could do to my son who is a Type 1 Diabetic became real. Not only that, but reality set in that my son’s senior year could be done. I had the same questions every parent of a senior had, “What about graduation, prom, senior trip?” How will he get to celebrate this milestone? I had moments of anger and grief just like any other parent. I have also used this time to create more memories. We have tried to make the most of being at home together, something that in reality we didn’t have enough time for. We have had more family meals together, enjoyed family game nights, and rediscovered the importance of staying connected to those we love.

I don’t have answers as to how the rest of the year will play out. I have learned to take it day by day and sometimes hour by hour. I rest assured in the things I can control and the things I know about our wonderful district. I can continue to create memories with my senior while he is home with us. I can make the best of each day with my children both at home with nothing on their calendars. I can continue to sing the school song and have my kids roll their eyes at me. I will continue to have my children complete their work packets and check in with their teachers, not because they have to, but because they can and they want to finish their year strong. I will continue to pray for our leaders, that they make these hard decisions and choose what is best for our students. I have faith in our high school administration. I have faith they will make it memorable. They have already done so much for our seniors. They have reached out personally to them, they have celebrated them on social media through the Senior Spotlight, and most recently they participated in Fight for the Lights. This night was memorable. Four communities came together Friday night to show their seniors that they are there for them. They showed up, which is what family does. This is how I feel about Arthur CUSD #305.

While I play a dual role in this situation one thing remains, Arthur CUSD #305 loves their students. I love my students and I feel everyone is working to make the best of this situation. My motto through it all has been this; If we take all of these strides in protecting our students and our families and it works, then it has all been worth it. If we get through it, which we will, and we still have our family next to us, then all of it has been worth it. All of the-would haves, could haves, and missed opportunities are worth it if we all make it to the other side of this.

I know one thing for sure, there is no other district I would want to go through this with. Arthur CUSD #305 is the place to be. I am so proud to be a Knight. I look forward to the day I can stand at the front of Atwood-Hammond Grade School and let students back in. I look forward to the day that I get to celebrate my senior with our family and friends. Most of all, I look forward to the future of our district because what this has shown me is that we are U-Knighted. We are the Knights and I have never been more proud of that.”

Dr. Sheila Greenwood is the PK-5 Principal/Superintendent of Bement. This is her thoughts on what is happening in the world.

“I think the kids are doing a good job with it.  They are a rich technology generation and they are used to communicating in that way.  I know they miss hanging out with their friends, but they are using other medium to do that.

No doubt that there has been a tremendous impact on the children’s learning.  They have missed one-fourth of an entire school year, which means that 25% of the curriculum was never even introduced, let alone mastered.  The parents are really doing a terrific job trying to balance their everyday lives and still partner with us to help their children with remote learning.

You just can’t replace that seat/activity time at school with the educators. I am in a bit of a unique position because I am still working basically seven days a week, so there hasn’t been any real down time for me, but my family is trying to find creative things to do here at home, stay at home, take walks, play in the yard, sidewalk chalk and “Big Wheels” are pretty popular right now.

I think we are all going to need to be patient with the kids, patient with each other and realize and accept that the kids are going to be behind where they normally would be.  We will have to start with them where they are NOT where they should be as far as academics go.  I also think there will be some social-emotional affects because of the 6-month break from school routines.

I am very proud of our Bement, Ivesdale and Milmine families for everything.  It has been a partnership all the way and the school staff has really shown incredible professionalism in all aspects of this closure crisis.  Let’s finish strong.
These students will probably be promoted/graduate if they have put forth an effort during this difficult time.  As I mentioned, we are going to have to meet them where they are when we come back in the fall.

Doug Kepley is Middle/High School Principal in Bement. These are his thoughts on how his school is handling the trying times we are experiencing at the present time.

The students are doing the best they can under the current circumstances. I know they miss seeing their classmates and teachers in person. We miss seeing all our students as well.

The students learning has been affected. Learning remotely is just not the same as being face-to-face in the classroom. However, our teachers have done an amazing job preparing lessons and communicating with their students. Google classroom, zoom, google hangouts, google meets, emails and phone calls are just a few ways that our staff is reaching out to students. If a student does not have a good internet connection, teachers are preparing lesson packets. I am very proud of our staff at Bement! It has not been an easy transition to remote learning and our staff has met the challenge.

My family has been watching movies, playing cards and board games to help pass the time. My wife and I have two teenagers who are still going to school online. We had to create a schedule for computer and printer usage. Our teenagers can stay up late, so I requested the daytime use of our computer!

It will be difficult coming back to onsite learning in the fall after ending this year on March 16th. There will be a time of reconnecting, reassuring, and reteaching students.

I would like to tell our community, parents, and students, THANK YOU! You have all been supportive, patient and understanding as we have journeyed through this unprecedented time together. We will be stronger and better in the end – we are ALL in this together.

Our 8th grade class moving into high school will have the support needed to be successful. Since our entire school district is housed under one roof (PreK-12) the 8th grade students already know their teachers for next year. Many of our teachers instruct classes at both the middle school and high school levels. This aspect of our school will help these students transition to high school and back to onsite learning with greater ease. This senior class has been deprived of so many end of the year activities. Your senior year should mark a milestone in your life and the Class of 2020 will not get to participate in that milestone together. I have known these kids for 12 years and my heart goes out to them. Our senior class sponsors have placed “Class of 2020” graduation signs in the yards of our seniors and every senior will be recognized on social media highlighting their high school achievements. The Class of 2020 will have a bright future ahead of them because of the obstacles they have had to overcome in the past few months. I wish all the seniors the best of luck for a bright and healthy future.

Brett Robinson is Superintendent of Cerro Gordo. We appreciate his sharing this article for our newspaper.

“The students I have encountered seem to be managing it pretty well, but miss seeing their friends and teachers at school.

I think it has been challenging for students, some more so than others. Remote learning is not as good as in-person learning for PK-12 students, but remote learning is the best option we have available right now.  Accordingly, I anticipate we will need to make some adjustments to our curriculum next school year.

Staying at home.  There has been much more time together than usual, more home cooked meals, more home maintenance and yard work.

We will need to cover or re-cover some learning standards next year.

We are very appreciative of the support of our students and staff from parents and the community.

Freshman level teachers will probably need to adjust what they cover to a certain degree, perhaps adding in some topics/standards that are typically 4th quarter of the eighth-grade year topics.”

Jodi Neavill is PK-6 Principal for Cerro Gordo. This is her story on the school situation and the pandemic.

“The students I have encountered seem to be managing it pretty well, but miss seeing their friends and teachers at school.

I think it has been challenging for students, some more so than others. Remote learning is not as good as in-person learning for PK-12 students, but remote learning is the best option we have available right now.  Accordingly, I anticipate we will need to make some adjustments to our curriculum next school year.

Staying at home.  There has been much more time together than usual, more home cooked meals, more home maintenance and yard work.

We will need to cover or re-cover some learning standards next year.

We are very appreciative of the support of our students and staff from parents and the community.

Freshman level teachers will probably need to adjust what they cover to a certain degree, perhaps adding in some topics/standards that are typically 4th quarter of the eighth-grade year topics.”

I would like to thank each of our personnel for letting our readers know what their thoughts are during this time of uncertainty. They, like the rest of us, are trying to follow the CDC guidelines and keep our loved ones, friends and neighbors safe.

Another month of Shelter in Place may have a lot of people climbing the walls, but it is imperative for this to happen. Wash hands often, wear a mask when around others, stay home as much as possible and stay safe. We will all get through this together.

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