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Back to school
Students, staff return to in-person instruction amidst COVID-19 pandemic
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Second graders Scarlett Clark and Taralyn Gratz enjoy a socially distanced recess, complete with masks. To allow more than one class outside for recess at a time, Northside opted to require masks. - photo by Shannon Rabotski

MONROE — School buildings across the nation that had been abruptly left empty in mid-March have become filled with students again, but the 2020-21 school year is not going to look like years past.

As COVID-19 spread throughout the nation, businesses and schools closed their doors without any sure answers as to when they would be able to open again.

Wisconsin schools followed suit and students were sent to learn from home following an order from Gov. Tony Evers that all Wisconsin schools transition to online learning no later than 5 p.m. March 18.

Monroe schools closed March 16. Initially, the plan was to be back in the buildings by April 13, the week following the district’s scheduled spring break. Instead, buildings remained shuttered with students learning virtually for the remainder of the year. Other school functions, like sports, prom and summer school, were canceled.

But that all changed Sept. 1 as Monroe schools welcomed back its students in a much different fashion. Students are required to wear masks, social distance and sanitize their hands frequently throughout the day. Additional janitorial measures are being taken to ensure cleanliness of the school buildings.

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Mrs. Saunders’ third grade class at Northside Elementary School in Monroe dance during Sarah Bodell’s music class. Due to increased risk of spreading COVID-19, music classes will not include singing this year and will instead focus on other forms of musical expression. - photo by Shannon Rabotski

With so many changes and uncertainties in place, many administrators and teachers were unsure of what to expect once the year began. Staff members got creative when it came time to hold typical end-of-summer events, like evenings set for students to meet their teachers, in order to keep students, staff and families safe. 

As of Sept. 3, the School District of Monroe had two confirmed positive student cases of COVID-19, but neither had yet been attending for face to face instruction.  

To ensure health and safety for all students and staff, Northside Elementary, along with the rest of the school buildings in the district, is enforcing extra cleaning guidelines and requiring masks and social distancing.

Parents are reminded not to send children to school if they have any symptoms or are awaiting test results.

Because of how unprecedented schooling during a pandemic is, many staff members found themselves facing many questions and fears before coming back. Many have been pleasantly surprised with how smoothly the transition into the new school year has gone thus far, Northside Principal Amy Timmerman said. 

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Second graders Laney Bawinkel, London Trimble and Jacob DeMuth social distance and swing during recess at Northside Elementary School in Monroe. - photo by Shannon Rabotski

A smooth first week

To add a little comfort and familiarity in a time seemingly filled with uncertainty, many schools are being sure to keep traditions alive, even if they look a little different.

In Juda, the school district always opens with a theme, and that didn’t change this year. The building is celebrating the theme of “Decades” with special activities, now just done in a socially-distanced way.

At Northside, students were still able to enjoy the annual first day root beer float party. This year, it was outside and distance was kept between students enjoying the sweet treats.

“By and large, we are very much off to a good start,” said Monroe District Administrator Rick Waski.

A concern shared by many teachers and parents alike was that students, especially elementary and younger, may not understand the changes or agree to wear masks. Instead, an overwhelming majority of students have been quick to abide by the new guidelines, Waski said. 

The kids have just been rock stars. I think as adults, sometimes we worry and then we don’t give the credit to the kids that they deserve. They’re so resilient.
Northside Principal Amy Timmerman

“The kids have just been rock stars,” Timmerman said. “I think as adults, sometimes we worry and then we don’t give the credit to the kids that they deserve. They’re so resilient.”

What has been seen by every staff member is that the students are willing to follow the rules so that they can stay in school instead of being sent home again. For staff members, who also had to abruptly leave their classrooms and students in the spring, being able to continue in-person learning is just as important.

“I think it’s important for the community to know that our staff want to be here too,” Waski said.

Some of the additional changes students have had to follow have included waiting on painted dots six feet apart when entering the buildings, eating lunch in classrooms or other areas that allow for small groups spaced out, extra sanitation practices and working with classmates who might be at home, learning online rather than in the classroom.

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Jace Huber smiles under his mask as he speaks with his classmates who are learning from home for the first week. Monroe started in a hybrid model, with slightly less than half of the students coming in person each week; 16% of the district’s students opted to do full-virtual learning. - photo by Shannon Rabotski

Virtual learning adds challenges

Because the School District of Monroe opted to start in a hybrid learning model, its current “Plan B” allows all students to learn from home and in-person on a rotating weekly basis. For some without stable internet connection, the online portion of schooling can be particularly difficult. 

In spring, the school district provided internet hotspots to families that did not have the means to purchase Wi-Fi for their homes. As the district remains with partially online learning, families without internet access may still seek support from the school.

“We’re trying to do what we can to support families,” Waski said. 

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Second grade teacher Jackie Klar of Juda School turned students’ desks into vehicles to make social distancing with plastic barriers less frightening as students return to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic. - photo by Shannon Rabotski

Because of the changes and technological challenges that may arise, teachers and schools focused primarily on making sure every student could succeed in such a model for the first week rather than diving in to lessons.

Navigating the many changes can be stressful or even scary to students, so teachers have been working diligently to make the school as welcoming and positive as possible. 

Some teachers in Green County schools have decorated students’ desks, turning them into vehicles with “windshields” that divide them between the student next to them. Others have hung posters providing alternative ways to say hello as opposed to a handshake, hug or high five. Others yet are showing students a positive attitude, and a lingering reminder that they are all in it together.

“It’s not easy all the time,” Juda Superintendent and K-12 Principal Traci Davis said. “But the kids have been doing a wonderful job.”

As area districts monitor cases and listen to recommendations from local, state and national authorities, the situation surrounding COVID-19 is ever-evolving.

“We don’t know what the future holds,” Davis said. “But we’re ready to tackle it.”