The Learning Curve: Knox Community Schools 2 years later

The Learning Curve: Knox Community Schools 2 years later

KNOX, Ind. -- The Learning Curve is back with an in-depth look into Michiana schools, their policies and the lives of students, teachers, and staff.

Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, how are local schools doing?

School is back in session as we check in with Knox Community Schools reminiscing on living, learning, and teaching amid a pandemic.

But after two years of e-learning and other COVID adaptions, have things really changed since the last time we were in Knox in 2021?

You'll remember these faces from ABC57's First Learning Curve story back in 2020.

Now, 2 years later, while the faces may not have changed, their stories certainly have.

“It seems like forever ago there was so much uncertainty at the time. Didn’t know what the next day brought us," said 4th grade teacher Kyle McCann.

“In my career I spent 20 years in the classroom and now 20 years in administration and by far the last two years have been the most challenging years as we’ve tried to move forward through these COVID issues," said the district superintendent, Dr. William Reichhart.

“I honestly thought that this was something that a year out this would be gone. But I feel like it is just a looming cloud of uncertainty that’s just hanging over us. What’s the next thing? What’s going to happen next?" said Rebekah Wagner, a long time Knox resident and mother.

"When it first hit, everybody was down. You couldn’t do much. I mean, Knox tried their best," said Gunner Wagner who graduated from Knox High School in 2021.

“We’ve kept kids in school. We haven’t shut down aside from those first three months when the governor ordered things to be shut down," said Reichhart. “We came close a few weeks ago, we were close to 16 percent in our student absences. If that gets up to 20 percent we’re going to have to shut things down. But we were able to navigate through it and now we’re back down quite a bit.”

As students return to the classroom, they were not the only ones learning and adapting.

How has teaching adapted and changed due to the coronavirus?

“So if a student is quarantined or needs to stay home for a little bit of time then I will still teach virtually. As I am teaching my class I’ll have the computer open and they can watch me as I am teaching," said McCann. “It’s really nice for them that they still get the in class experience from home, it’s just really hard to keep their attention while at home.”

“I would say the biggest hurdle for me would be time. On our canvas page that all our kids would go to, I would have to set it up everyday with any poster or workbook page. I wanted everything on that page that the kids could go through, navigate Canvas easily," said 2nd grade teacher, Jamie Shireman.

“As a teacher, we’re doing double work. Making sure that the kids online are receiving adequate amount of education and the kids in class. Not only that we take time out of our day to make sure everything is clean now also," said McCann. "Yeah, definitely adding to the work.”

“The teachers are the ones that work in the classrooms to try and get the kids to stay on task. And when you have so many kids missing in your class, you have to go back and catch up those kids that are gone  and it’s really challenging," said Dr. Reichhart.

“What I’ve noticed with the kids coming back, there are gaps," said Shireman.

“As we brought kids back in the beginning of the year, I could very quickly tell who was virtual and who wasn’t," said McCann. "So right now, I have the challenge of trying to bring those kids that might not have done as much virtually last year, I am trying to teach them the third grade skills that they didn’t get last year, and try to teach them the fourth grade skills of this year.”

“We notice a gap–let’s review, let’s small group. And now that we are back to a more normal we can do small groups. They can sit together, do partner work which is nice. So we are filling the gaps," said Shireman.

“If I could tell the parents anything it’s we love your kids," McCann said. "We’re doing everything we can. Are they a little bit behind? Yeah. But we’re working as hard as we can to make up for that gap and we are doing everything we think is right for your child.”

Because at the end of the day, it's all about the kids.

But when a pandemic affects not only schools, but the entire globe, other issues aside from just education appeared.

“We have trouble right now with the labor shortage. Whether it’s cafeteria workers or lunchroom aides, or just substitutes, it’s been really challenging because they have gotten COVID themselves or they have found a job that pays more money," said Dr. Reichhart. “Right now we have a 25 percent turnover rate in just superintendents and normally that’s like 15 percent so it has affected everyone from the classrooms up to administration. If I have 3 bus drivers that call out sick or have to be quarantined we have to shut down because we just don’t have any extra bus drivers out there right now. Also the supplies. This year we have experienced more shortages in the kitchens. Right now we have a shortage of hamburger. The USDA has told us they do not have enough hamburger to provide to all the schools. So we are improvising and using alternate choices. We tell our parents that this is our menu for the week subject to change. And a lot of days it does change unfortunately.”

Supply chain shortages, sickness, and learning gaps were never issues the district planned to face two years ago.

Now, after living and working through the consequences of the COVID pandemic, ABC57 also spoke with Rebekah and Gunner Wagner. The mother and son we spoke with in 2020 and 2021.

“I really think that they did the best that they could. I really think they handled things well," said Rebekah Wagner. "They tried their best to keep us in school and I know at times we had to wear masks and stuff but they did everything they could to keep things normal. We spent his whole academic career getting him ready to go to college. There was no doubt in my mind. He did everything he could–took honors classes and just be ahead of where he needed to be. And that kind of changed.”

“After I graduated I thought I was going to go to college but I decided not to. Just cost and it was uncertain you know with the vaccines and I didn’t know if I would get the full college experience. I didn’t know if it was all going to be online and if it was I would just be better off taking online courses not paying.. But I went into the workforce and am now employed," said Gunner Wagner who graduated from Knox High School in 2001. "Where I’m at they take care of me so it’s good. But I do kind of miss the college aspect a little bit. Just like school and hanging out with your friends and stuff. I definitely feel like I have more responsibility where I am at right now.”

“I do believe there may have been some good in it, I mean that is weird to say. But I feel like it kind of slowed us down. But we got more family time," said Rebekah.

“I guess the family time,” said Gunner.

“Whereas he would have been at school or at sports or hanging with his friends. We had a lot more time to spend together playing board games stuff around the house because it wasn’t like you could have taken off to go to the movies or roller skating or whatever cause you were mostly inside the house," said Rebekah.

“So it kind of brought back that home life aspect?" asked Summer Horan.

“It did! It really did. And I do think that is the best thing to come out of it. I think that families have had more time together," said Rebekah.

“There has been a positive. We received this ESSR money the federal government gave us ESSR money and I think here at Knox we gotten over 5 million between the two rollouts of that money. That has helped us tremendously these last 2 years because we did a 20 point 3 million dollar building project and we have remodeled all three of our buildings and in that process we have replaced ceilings, air quality, we’re going to put new roofs on this summer on both our elementary and middle school. And we are using that federal dollars to do that where otherwise we’d have to go out and raise our property taxes in order to do things like that. So from that stand point the federal government has really helped us out. They’ve also provided free lunches for our students for the last two years for all of our students to have and enjoy a hot lunch everyday," said Dr. Reichhart.

“It’s definitely not a one man job. I as well as all the other teachers we didn’t get through it alone. You know we had to lean on each other," said McCann.

“The kids, when they get really excited about a lesson or a fun activity that we are doing that excitement kind of fuels me. It keeps me going," said Shireman.

While the last two years have changed the way we live and look at the world, it's important to remember our kids are resilient.

They have made it through and we can too.

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