Alta-Aurelia Schools to practice hybrid learning

Friday, November 13, 2020

COVID-19 positive cases in the Alta-Aurelia School District have spiked, leading to a shortage of substitute teachers and a plan to practice the hybrid model this month in the event the governor calls for stricter guidelines for schools. The matter was discussed at the Nov. 11th school board meeting. At this time, face-to-face classes remain in session.

“We know that our kids are better off being in school. They are still wearing masks, they’re still doing a really good job,” Alta-Aurelia School Superintendent William Walters said. However, with the spike in COVID cases, school officials are preparing for what may come next.

“The Friday and Monday before Thanksgiving break, we are going to do a practice run with the hybrid model to work out some kinks. Our hybrid model for the elementary is that our kids stay in school, and we spread them out,” Walters said. Elementary classes would be held not only in classrooms, but also the library, multi-purpose room, possibly the teachers lounge, and part of the high school since half the student body would be at home.

A consideration from the school district is that child care for younger children is difficult for parents, so they are attempting to help parents by keeping the elementary students in school. Walters said that things to consider with the elementary students is dividing the groups properly and ensuring there is enough coverage with teachers and other adults. “We need to run through this to see where we’re at. It is by no means easy. It’s stressful for teachers, but we’ve got to do it to see what this looks like. We want to take a run at it and see what we’re up against.”

In the hybrid model, the high school and middle school students would attend school every other day. The A group will be in school while the B group would be at home working on assignments.

Zoom classes are not part of the hybrid model. “They will be doing work at home on the days that they’re off,” Jeannie Henningsen, Principal of Aurelia Elementary and Middle School said. “Learning virtually, it sounds like it’s easy and they just tune in. It’s harder than what it seems for teachers and students.” She said there are currently 8 or 9 virtual learners in the middle school, and the school receives 4 or 5 phone calls per day on little tweaks that need to be dealt with.

Instead, students will learn two lessons on the day they are in school and will do their work at home on the other day. High School Principal Scott Mitchell said they will do the same. “Managing that many kids and a classroom online would be a lot.”

Walters has faith in his faculty and staff, saying they’ve done great so far. “I think it will work well, but there’s going to be some kinks to work out,” he said of the hybrid model.

A shuffling of responsibilities has occurred lately due to those who are recovering, unable to work for a certain amount of time. “One of the things I want to make clear is our core classes become the priority. We have to cover those core classes,” Walters said, emphasizing that it is not that the arts, music, special education, etc., are not valued, but that the core classes must be a priority. “Our people are doing an outstanding job of just taking care of one another. If they didn’t do that, we’d be in a tough place right now.”

He has been in contact with superintendents and educational organizations in the area who are all struggling with the numbers and dealing with personnel off the job for a period of time to recover from COVID-19.

In other school board news:

• Athletic Director Grant Peckenschneider updated board members about a recent change of limiting spectators at sports events. “The biggest thing that happened this week was the governor came out with a mandate of two people per athlete, so we’re working on that, thinking about the tickets. We’re going to have to figure it out,” he said.

He mentioned the availability of cameras to allow viewing of games remotely. “I would really push the cameras. We’ve put those in. Grandma and grandpa may not be able to come to some games because of these limitations, so I think it’s very good that we got those in place and ready to go. I think they’ll get used quite a bit,” he said.

Peckenschneider appreciates the mask requirement. “The whole conference is going to do that so everybody will be on the same page there. That will help a lot so we’re all doing the same thing,” he said.

• The board voted unanimously to approve the purchase of a new Hoglund school bus which will be purchased for $103,452 to be delivered in July of 2021. It will hold 77 passengers, will have seatbelts and the camera will be in place. The cost will drop to $102,452 when the current 77-passenger bus is traded in.