The Learning Curve: A final letter to this COVID-conscious school year
MICHIANA - This year is defined by the word transition. We used The Learning Curve to tell stories at over 25 school districts across Michiana.
We spoke to students, teachers, parents, superintendents, even maintenance workers to hear what this year has been like.
From the closure of schools at a moment's notice last March, and the transition to online learning, to the complete reopening of schools this past spring. These kids have rolled with the punches.
We were there to witness it all and now some of the people we spoke to are writing a final letter, a final report card to this year, about this year, for this year of COVID.
This year has been...
"This year has been the experience of a lifetime. It wasn't ideal. There are plenty of things we'd all change if we could, but nothing could nothing should be perfect. We grow the most in hard times, and this year was the hardest of them all. I'm just happy we got to enjoy the senior experience and at least some of its glory," St. Joseph High School Senior, Aaron Hart said.
"It made me sad because we're gonna see anyone's smiles because we have to wear a mask to school all day. We learn not to talk to them mommy is on the phone in her office, we had to say six feet away, our best friends in, I couldn't hug my grandma," Haizlee Gardini, a first-grader at Edwardsburg Schools said.
“Dealing with death and grief has made even more difficult during the pandemic because of the need to follow protocols, which causes even more isolation at a time when those grieving need the love and support of others more than at any other time. Moreover, our students have suffered other losses over this last year,” Mishawaka Schools Superintendent, Wayne Barker said.
"Stops starts an ominous uncertainty about the possibility of in-person, education, and seemingly endless debates about how to navigate the unexpected circumstances, and most importantly about what's truly best for our students," Carey Rellis, one parent said.
"When you shut down a school or you close the school, it really has a widespread impact, and you're not sure how that all filters and how that all touches until you have to do it. And then you realize, boy, we really are an integral part of our society in our community," Dr. Dan Applegate, the Niles Schools Superintendent said. “Sometimes you have to make a decision quickly with the best available information, and then be flexible and adaptive enough to make the changes into your decision making that what's best for the community, the students and the staff.”
Tana: A lot of times you could be looked at as the bad guy like ‘oh he’s not requiring masks, he is requiring it.’
“Oh, absolutely. The bad guy. Absolutely. Absolutely. I'm the bad guy. And that's okay. Somebody has to be somebody has to make that decision," he said.
"What all of this meant for our staff was the need to put time well beyond their contract hours to make sure we were meeting the needs of our students in some form or fashion every one of our 750 plus employees was asked to take on additional responsibilities," Dan Funston, the Concord Schools Superintendent said. "It hasn't been easy but their efforts have been nothing short of heroic."
"To keep up with the daily cleaning and sanitizing to help prevent the spread of COVID in our school," Mike Garland, head of maintenance for Culver Schools said.
"This year changed my family forever. Typical learning and development were disrupted our children were torn from the life that they knew time with classmates lunch with friends sports and celebration," Trish Gardini, mom of 3, said. "We went from checking in once every couple weeks with long distance friends to weekly, and then daily. We felt the despair, but as a family, we commit to choosing to be helped, hopeful."
We learned a lot about...
"We have learned a lot about starting over. We have learned a lot about what actually goes on in the classroom," Jessica Ruppert, mom of 6, said.
"While Elearning had its many obstacles, we were forced to quickly overcome, I am somewhat glad it happened," Ariana Hooks, Ruppert's daughter said.
"We learned a lot about school at home. My mom taught me how all of the math in how to read and write, we learned about planting flowers at home, how to play golf with our daddy and how to cook and bake with our mommy," Haizlee said.
"We have learned a great deal in the past, past year about change, flexibility, and adaptation. That seemed like every week we had new rules, guidelines in our schools," Garland said.
"We know that students benefit most from spending time in a classroom with a teacher, but we also know that technology is a powerful learning tool that when harnessed correctly can support student learning far beyond school walls," Funston said.
"We learned a lot about ourselves. Life in the midst of COVID-19 has sparked fear, frustration, and anxiety all around, but it forced our family to search for the strength within our own home, and within ourselves. Having a newborn during a pandemic was nothing short of terrifying," Trish said.
"We have learned a lot about appreciating the life and routines, we previously had," Rellis said. "We learned a lot about how to spend more quality time as a family, infusing board games and card games into evenings, suddenly found with all of us at home.
"Quarantine defined our summer, masks defined our school year. But new perspectives guided us through it all. We may have lost or gained people in our life. But at the end of the day, we're all the better for it. We learn to love ourselves. And that's the most valuable thing of all," Hart said.
The next five years will look like...
"The next five years will look like happiness because COVID is going to be over, more time with friends and family and lots more hugs," Haizlee said.
“We are now more understanding of kids staying homesick. Everyone is more cautious as far as hand washing and being aware of things you touch," Ruppert said.
"The next five years will look like a movement to me. Okay, coming into fruition, basically seeing young minds grow from the seed that you planted in their head are priceless, it’s contagious, when they're, when their fellow students see them succeeding and more successful, guess what, they want to do the same thing," Darnell Johnson, an instructor at Benton Harbor Area Schools said. “I am very confident and very sure that it will eventually get back to normal. I mean, our families need this I’m tired of wearing masks all the time. Okay, I'm tired of being enclosed all the time.
"It seems like it's every time somebody touches something we have to go behind them and clean it all and it's just, it's a lot more work a lot more headache on everybody. And we just want that sense of 'norm,'" Garland said.
"The next five years will look like a return to the traditional school environment with added attention to students' social-emotional need," Funston said.
"Like many things in our lives education has changed to at school city of Mishawaka, we are now fully one to one with devices for all students," Barker said. "Some things won't change however, we will continue to prioritize the students and families we serve.
"I don't believe the upcoming years will be a return to the way things were," Rellis said.
"The next five years will look like a town in the wake of a hurricane, we will be picking up the pieces from this pandemic for years. Fortunately, we have learned to not only get through it. But we learn to walk arm in arm with the people we didn't know existed to take care of each other," Trish said.
"The next five years will look like whatever we make them be. This year has been about setting your own limits, designing your own destiny. And all the seniors here at st. Joseph's high school has an incredible plan for their lives. I can't wait to see what the future holds," Hart said.
"Once you've lived through something so unexpected so devastating, a pandemic, a death in the family is something that takes away something that you have to grieve and learn to live with. You always have in the back of your mind. It could happen again. And so I don't think they'll take for granted the opportunity to appreciate their teachers, classmates and that time together," Rellis said.