'I do expect the kids to be nervous': New Prairie Schools prepare for hybrid learning

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NEW PRAIRIE, Ind. -  The pandemic has changed many aspects of our normal lives and that now includes schooling. Many districts making a difficult decision on whether kids should be allowed back inside the school.

We have shown you in-person learning in Knox, online learning in Walkerton and now we’re heading to New Carlisle to take a look at the New Prairie United School Corporation’s hybrid model.

A bell rings. Students rush off the buses into the school, masks in hand.

“There's just a lot of unknowns with everything," Mark Schellinger, the New Prairie High School history teacher said.

A woman's voice is heard over the intercom welcoming students and notifying them of the new safety requirements, including masks and social distancing guidelines.

“We have classes around 25 to 28. Now with the 50%, you know, usually around 13 or 14 per day per hour," Schellinger said.

“I personally have 22 kindergarteners in my room altogether, there will be no slip between the two days. And then two kiddos who are the virtual academy at this point. So it seems to be the majority wants to be in back," Sara Gillen, a Prairie View Elementary kindergarten teacher said.

Hundreds of kids are heard going into school, their conversations muffled by masks. 

“We've adopted a hybrid model in which Monday through Thursday, our students will attend two of the four days either on Monday, Wednesday, or Tuesday, Thursday, the other two days, the two days that they're not here. They'll be engaged in what we're calling practice-at-home, which will be a follow up on what they learned in the classroom in person the previous day. And there'll be some zoom interaction and zoom support available for students on those two, practice to home day. And then Friday is an e-learning day for all students," Paul White, PhD, the New Prairie United School Corporation Superintendent said.

He said the decision was a hard one but the hybrid plan is ultimately what's best for the district.

“The idea that we're going to attempt in-person instruction, but in a way that the class sizes are much smaller. We can really be intentional about social distancing, and mask expectations, and have both in play to give us the best chance to keep everyone as safe as possible," he said.

A day before, teachers like Gillen are seen spacing out desks and setting up clear dividers.

“It gives us a chance to be in the room and social distance at the same time and kind of ease into what is not so normal I guess you could say," Gillen said. "We don't want to ever feel like we're in a position that we just have to stop, you know like we were last year. So we have a lot of online resources and explaining.”

“I think the hybrid system does work where we can see our kids. Whereas if you're e-learning, every single day, sometimes a little bit tougher to set up lessons, where having them every other day, or at least getting them at the beginning, we can kind of set some things in place that will make that transition easier," Schellinger said.

Schellinger has three kids in the New Prairie school system.

“Kindergarten, first-grade and third grade right now," he said. "We talked a little bit, we put their masks on, so they can get used to that. And, you know, they're aware, especially the older couple of them are aware of what's going on, you know, just to try and make them comfortable. So that, you know, when they're at school, they're not thinking about some of those things.”

However, these challenging times can be a lot for smaller kids.

“I do expect the kids to be nervous just because a lot of their preschool experiences were cut short if they even had preschool experience. So this will be the first time they're leaving probably home, you know, for a lot since March. So we, you know, we're still working out the ways in normal here. If they're crying or they're upset, and we hold their hands, we hug them whenever they need it. So of course, we're still working out details there just to make sure we're doing everything in a safe manner, and still comforting as well," Gillen said.

"I think those conversations are gonna have to happen in social studies class and history class, I'm sure we'll have those discussions. Because, you know, this is a historic time," Schellinger said.

Gillen and Schellinger have had to prepare for months for Thursday - the first day of school. Thinking about breaks for washing hands, sanitizing books and even separating school materials so there is no sharing.

“Teachers we've been we've been told what to do between classes, cleaning desks, you know how to design our classrooms, putting up plastic between us in the students and just making it so that they're aware of all of those protocols that are in place," Schellinger said.

“I was very concerned as many people were at the beginning of this to see and kind of waiting to see what the plan would be. However, I know as a teacher that the kids need to be in the classroom. So I am so grateful that we are getting them in here, even if it's only half of the time," Gillen said.

Now the hybrid schedule is definitely a transition for many parents who are now having to figure out life both inside and outside school buildings but just like Knox and John Glenn school districts, everyone is adapting to these challenging times.

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