Preparing for Fall During COVID-19
By Kimberly Kingsbury, Curriculum Director, Canton City Schools
As I was standing in a checkout line yesterday, with my mask and appropriate social distancing of course, I noticed amongst the many impulse buy items the classic “Magic 8 Ball” toy. Remember that one? You ask it a question about the future, give it a shake, and wait for your answer. You can get up to 20 different responses ranging from “it is certain” to “don’t count on it” to “ask again later.” I laughed out loud thinking that it seems like it’s just what we need to help plan for school in the fall.
In all seriousness, planning for the opening of school in the fall is no easy task. It takes a lot of planning, coordinating, collaborating, and communicating; all within a limited amount of time and with information that often changes daily. In the Canton City School District, our process began before the 2019-2020 school year ended. We surveyed every family to find out what their thoughts were about school reopening, including how comfortable they would be sending their child back to school and what main questions they had. Of those who responded to the survey, we learned that 36% are comfortable or very comfortable sending their child back to school and 33% are not sure right now. The vast majority of questions were about what the safety procedures would look like.
Using our survey results and available guidance from the CDC and local health officials, our team began planning for reopening options for 2020-2021. Our options are similar to what many other Ohio districts have announced they are working on, including face to face with a remote option, a blended approach, or all remote. One of the biggest areas of preparation includes making sure we have the technology to support blended or remote learning. As a district we were not one-to-one with technology at all of our grade bands, so the first thing we did was purchase enough technology so that we would be able to offer one-to-one technology once school started. We are also planning for the professional development needed for staff, students, and parents around the use of the technology tools. Another big area of preparation involves preparing the physical spaces that our students and staff will use. In the building, that means literally walking through what would be a typical school day (from start to finish) to see what changes need to be made to keep everyone safe.
Finally, an area that we can’t ignore, and must plan for, are the social-emotional needs of our students, families, and staff when we return in the fall. It will be especially important that we work to re-engage students, re-establish relationships, and create a safe and supportive environment where everyone can thrive. As Margaret Weatley (2004) stated, “It is possible to prepare for the future without knowing what it will be. The primary way to prepare for the unknown is to attend to the quality of our relationships, to how well we know and trust one another.”
To hear more from our district, Canton City Schools, as well as educators from several other school districts talking about our early responses to COVID-19, you can listen to the podcast episode “COVID-19 and Schools: The Early Days.” More resources are being planned focusing on Ohio schools response to the pandemic.