The COVID-19 pandemic has closed school doors all across the country and beyond. The staff at St. James R-I School District continues to adapt as we learn more about our new world of caring for and teaching our students from a distance. Nobody signed up for this situation and it is no one’s fault; not a politician’s fault, not a school district’s fault, and not another country’s fault. We learn more each day about the seriousness of the sickness and unfortunately about death that has stricken people near St. James.
One month ago the term “social distancing” was not in many of our lexicons. When our students were dismissed on March 16 we did not realize this day could possibly be the last day of the 2019-2020 school year. This is a reality now. The majority of our students and parents were not ready for learning opportunities to be presented online or through the newspaper. Although our teachers were ready to teach virtually for 10 days, they were not mentally and/or emotionally prepared to teach remotely for the remainder of the year. Our staff, students, and parents have been tremendous in learning quickly to master new technologies and learn through a variety of ways. We are all in this together. As a collective team, we have all prioritized supporting each other as humans and prioritized simple solutions that make sense.
The original intentions of the Alternative Methods of Instruction (AMI) format was to develop a system of student accountability for both grades and attendance during extended weather closures. Implementing this format was an early thought when we assumed the closure would be for a short period of time. Due to the intervention from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), attendance no longer plays a part in this closure. The primary concern continues to be how students will receive useful academic feedback from teachers during the closure. The original plan of disseminating and collecting hard copy packets between teachers and students has changed due to the length of this closure. We had originally planned for students to bring their packets back to school after the closure. The extension of this closure not only accentuates the problem of handling the packets, but it also includes the unnecessary transmission of the virus during the exchange.
The district’s new emphasis is to provide students with authentic learning opportunities that can take place at home. Feedback may not always be possible at this time. During the closure, teachers have been asked to keep things simple, focused and effective. Our teachers will continue to prioritize sharing resources and communicating clearly. Due to the closure, some assignments are no longer possible, some expectations are no longer reasonable, and some objectives are no longer valuable. We are not seeking perfection and we are all learning together as we combat isolation. We have asked our teachers to stay connected and continue to use as many communication tools as possible. Our instructional staff already started the process of contacting all students to see how they’re doing during the closure. During this time, teachers are checking in with parents and students to give them the necessary feedback regarding learning opportunities and to provide direction on how to extend learning as much as possible.
We understand the concern expressed by many parents about regression… which we all understand. I do not like saying this as an educator, but right now…. our students’ safety is much more important than their learning. Every kid and every parent is in the same boat. When we are back in the classrooms, we will all regroup and make the appropriate course corrections. I totally understand that our parents have other things on their plates…. we as a district are doing our very best to support all of our parents during this challenging time. The St. James R-I School District will remain flexible and will continue to adjust to the situation. Nobody knows where this closure is going and what we will need to adapt to next. At this time, we all need support and to be as understanding as possible as we navigate through this situation together.
Note: Due to the resilience of the COVID-19 virus and its ability to survive for long periods on surfaces, we have joined the City in closing our playgrounds. Please help communicate this playground closure to your friends and family.