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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely students ‘back in the groove’ as they return to school

Keith Vandervort
Posted 1/20/21

ELY – The sounds of shoes squeaking on the floors, locker doors slamming, and kids talking and laughing in the hallways filled Memorial School last week. Those familiar sounds made it to the …

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Ely students ‘back in the groove’ as they return to school

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ELY – The sounds of shoes squeaking on the floors, locker doors slamming, and kids talking and laughing in the hallways filled Memorial School last week. Those familiar sounds made it to the ears of 6-12 Principal Megan Anderson as students transitioned from distance learning to hybrid learning.
“It is great to have students back here,” she said.
In-person learning is now in place for the younger students in the Washington building as the school district cautiously navigates the challenges of teaching students during the continuing coronavirus pandemic.
ISD 696 switched to distance learning around Thanksgiving as COVID-19 cases trended upward in the community. Students stayed home through the Christmas holidays and returned to in-school learning on Jan. 12, just as the number of positive cases began inching upward again.
In the weekly meeting of the Ely Safe Learning Plan Advisory Council on Jan. 14, K-5 Principal Anne Oelke said, “It’s nice to have the kids back. They are getting back in the groove, they are good at all this COVID stuff. They’re little soldiers. They are awesome and are experts at COVID (protocols).”
She explained that the Washington School is set up more like a hybrid model to keep the kids separate and safe.
“We have pretty much cohorted all of them into small groups. Even for our bigger groups, like for music, we have split those in half so they are not all in the same area at the same time,” she said. “Interventions are done on computer to limit the staff from moving around the school too much.”
Anderson agreed with Oelke on the positive aspects of having students back in the building. “We certainly missed them and welcomed them back in the school.”
Cohorts of students attend schools on Mondays and Tuesdays. Other cohorts are in school on Thursdays and Fridays. All students maintain distance-learning on Wednesdays.
With school returning to some in-person models, and following the holiday break with likely more in-person events and celebrations, the number of positive COVID-19 cases is also going up. Superintendent Eric Erie reported three positive cases of COVID-19 in the school community last week, bringing the cumulative total to 14 for the school year.
“With contact tracing, there were no other groups affected,” he said.
School nurse Betty Erickson confirmed that the recent positive tests in the school community involved distance learners and occurred over the holiday break.
“There was no exposure to anyone at school,” she said.
The St. Louis County COVID-tracking dashboard for northern county schools went up slightly last week, from 17.34 positive cases per 10,000 people, to 21.7, but was nowhere near the 92.3 positive cases at the beginning of January.
“Central St. Louis County went down about 10 points,” Erie said.
In the past week, in St. Louis County, deaths from COVID-19 increased from 225 to 237. The number of deaths in the state of Minnesota continues to climb, from 5,528 to 5,724 last week.
“That is nearly 200 more deaths and that is a significant number,” he said.
Deaths in the United States crossed the 400,000 mark on Tuesday, with nearly two million deaths reported across the planet.
Public health protocols for teachers and staff were adjusted prior to the holiday break in anticipation of the return to in-person instruction.
“Now they are ‘strongly recommending’ that both masks and shields be worn by teachers,” Erie said. “We are also strongly recommending that our teachers and staff wear both forms of protection. We are not requiring both at this time.”
Face shields and masks are available for all ISD 696 employees.
Voluntary saliva tests for the coronavirus were available for teachers and volunteers on campus beginning last week, according to Erie. Saliva test clinics, both in the Memorial and Washington buildings, will continue to be held on campus about every two weeks. “We hope our employees take advantage of that,” he said.

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