School hallways are silent. Lockers have nothing in them. Classrooms are empty. And it’s not summer vacation.
Instead, students and teachers are working from home. After a week of online education, everyone’s settling in.
“Everyone needs to remember, we have 750-plus students and 56 staff doing something new and they’ve been at it a week,” Kevin Wingard, Milford Public School superintendent, said. “It’s normal in a different mode.”
“We’d much rather be in person,” Dr. Josh Fields, Seward Public Schools superintendent, said.
“We miss the students and the busy hallways! Not the same around here,” Wingard said.
Centennial High School Principal Colin Bargen and Elementary Principal Ken Booth said the first week went better than they expected.
“I’ve been really appreciative of everybody’s positivity about this situation,” Bargen said.
Booth said the goal at Centennial Elementary is enrichment, review, practice, connect and support. Teachers put together activity packets for the students to complete.
Teachers are using Zoom to connect with their classes and trying to keep lessons fun and good, Wingard said.
“We’re still working out bumps. There are still questions,” Wingard said. “Overall, I feel good about where we are.”
Fields said the students have settled in well, and teachers are working hard to stay in contact with all of them.
Centennial’s students have been involved in Zoom sessions, as well, Bargen said. They’ve stayed positive and understanding as teachers adjust to new technology, teaching strategies and changes in how they work.
“The kids have been awesome with connecting with teachers,” Booth said. “Teachers also do a daily video for the students and go through their daily routines and expectations for the day.”
After a week online, Wingard said teachers are being as flexible as possible for the students who have trouble meeting the set times.
“As long as we see progress on work,” Wingard said. “Teachers are stepping up and being creative.”
Fields said classes like physical education and strength training are offering workouts for the students to do at home.
Centennial Elementary students use SeeSaw and Google Classroom to submit work digitally, Booth said.
“We are working really hard to encourage, motivate and provide feedback on student learning, but have grace and patience with all students, as well,” he said. “If students are not completing work, or not communicating, our teachers will continue to communicate at a high level, encourage and provide support whenever possible.”
MPS district staff is making sure families have access to the internet and equipment. Wingard said they can help with hotspots and technology.
With new laws and recommendations coming out rapidly, Fields said, SPS staff is doing its best to work through them all.
“It’s been a stressful time for everyone,” Fields said. “We feel we’re all in it together.”
The first week, teachers were in and out of the Milford school buildings on a staggered schedule. Staring now, though, teachers will be teaching from home, Wingard said.
“We’re trying to limit building access as much as possible,” he said. “They’ll need approval to get back in.”
The goal is to keep the COVID-19 virus out of the building.
“Cleaning the building is not cheap if there’s a confirmed case,” Wingard said.
At Centennial, high school classes meet twice a week via Zoom, Bargen said. Sessions are recorded so those who can’t attend the live session can still watch when it fits into their schedules.
“Some of our students are caring for younger siblings, and so they might have to put their school work off until later in the day,” he said.
CPS has used Google Classroom already this year, so students are used to working online. The Bronco Families homerooms meet via Zoom, as well.
“We feel that it is important to provide many different ways to connect during this time of social distancing,” Bargen said.
Seward’s teachers have the option of working from home or coming to their buildings. Custodial staff is conducting its typical summer deep-cleaning now, Fields said.
“I’m proud of the staff and students,” he said.
SPS had created a plan in the event of a remote-learning possibility. Fields said they’re continuing to make adjustments and time goes on.
Fields said the classified staff has been able to keep working full time, as well, doing tasks like painting and cleaning if they chose.
All three schools are part of Educational Service Unit 6, which has recommended closing the schools indefinitely.
“We’d love to be able to start May 4 with kids, but it is looking more and more difficult,” Fields said in a conference call March 26. “We’ll wait and see since none of us have a crystal ball.”
Wingard said the community support has been great. People have called to volunteer, which isn’t always an option because of confidentiality, Wingard said.
“Keep offering to volunteer. We’ll use you when we can,” he said March 26.
“All of the parents that I’ve talked to have been positive,” Bargen said. “They know this is new for students and teachers, and I believe that they are appreciative of the efforts that our staff is making.”
Maintaining mental health is important, and Milford has resources to help.
“Mental health and resources to live are more important,” Wingard said. “We need to help families survive.”
The loss of activities is also huge. Prom at Milford has been canceled and graduation is in limbo.
“We’re trying to find creative options,” Wingard said.
Seward is looking at a graduation ceremony in June or July, Fields said.
Seward is serving 60-65 lunches Monday through Friday in a drive-thru set-up at the high school. They can be picked up between 11:30 a.m. and noon. The backpack program is also continuing. The Seward Kiwanis still packs the backpacks, and the SPS bus drivers deliver then on Thursdays.
Milford is providing meals for students who need them, Wingard said.
“We hope to expand it in a week or so,” he said.
The backpack program is still open. The lunchroom staff and paraeducators pack the backpacks and set up deliveries for those who need them. The Milford Kiwanis is still providing funding for the program, Wingard said.
Bargen said breakfasts and lunches are delivered to a central location in each village (Gresham, Utica and Beaver Crossing) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for families that indicated a need.
“Shannon Henry has been pivotal in helping coordinate the food distribution,” Booth said. “Lori Eichman and her kitchen staff have been putting together over 80 meals on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with enough food for the next day and the weekends.”