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North Woods School preps for return to in-person learning

David Colburn
Posted 8/19/20

FIELD TWP.- Preparing for students to return to school in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything North Woods Principal John Vukmanich and his staff have experienced, but they’re …

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North Woods School preps for return to in-person learning

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FIELD TWP.- Preparing for students to return to school in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything North Woods Principal John Vukmanich and his staff have experienced, but they’re enthusiastically anticipating seeing students again as they go through the rigors of making the environment safe, healthy, and conducive to learning.
“The morale and attitude of the staff is positive,” Vukmanich said on Tuesday. “I think they’re ready to get back to as much normalcy as possible. I think the social part of school is super important, not just for the kids but for the staff as well.”
Vukmanich was joined by district Superintendent Reggie Engebritson to talk about preparations at North Woods.
Students haven’t been at the school since classes were suspended in mid-March, and Vukmanich said that the effects of the long layoff could show during the first few weeks of school.
“When kids come back in, they always come back with a summer regression, dependent on different activities kids do in the summer,” he said. “That may be more apparent, so as we start the school year we’re mindful that may present more of an extra challenge than a normal start would. I think the kids are going to be all over the board at the start.”
As distance learning will be part of the plan since students in all grade levels have the option to do distance learning exclusively, Vukmanich said the school has been trying to use lessons learned last spring to make the process simpler and more effective.
“We’re streamlining the number of technology platforms we’re going to use, which will streamline the distance learning process for parents as well,” he said. “High school will be primarily on Google Classroom, and elementary will be primarily on SeeSaw.”
Vukmanich said that all classrooms with have an iPad to provide for utilizing Zoom for distance learning students to view classes in real time. Teachers will also be recording lessons for students to view.
Engebritson said that the district recently offered additional training for teachers in online learning, and that the district is planning to have distance learning coordinators to facilitate contact with students and parents, depending on the number of students who are utilizing distance learning.
And while staff have been busy rearranging classrooms and putting up signs and laying down tape to promote social distancing and various health practices, Vukmanich hopes school will have a feeling of normalcy, too.
“We’re planning on having classes in as normal a fashion as we can,” he said. “We’re not planning on isolating classes at this time. Our high school kids will still be going from class to class like they would in a normal year.”
Vukmanich noted that the school’s maintenance staff will have added responsibilities to ensure spaces and equipment are cleaned and sanitized.
“They’re going to be doing more cleaning than normal,” he said. “High-traffic, high-touch areas will be a minimum of three cleanings a day. They’ll be making sure they clean the playground equipment every day, as well as the classrooms.”
While some districts and schools are choosing to have students eat lunch in their classrooms, Vukmanich said that’s not the desired plan for North Woods.
“We’re still hoping we can do hot lunch like normal, with appropriate spacing as they go through the line,” he said. “Our hope is that we can still use the commons and space the students out, facint the same direction. They do eat in separate shifts already, but we have also started discussing about having kids’ lunch times staggered.”
As the school zeroes in on the number of students who will be attending in person, Vukmanich has been working with teacher teams to look at how to best configure their classrooms.
“We’ve been talking about physically spacing the kids as much as we can,” he said. “That might look different in different rooms depending on how many kids they have and whether they have desks or tables.”
“Right now we’re socially distancing to the best of our ability,” Engebritson added.
Vukmanich said they’re still developing plans for how to handle larger classes like band and choir.
Teachers are also being encouraged to utilize the outdoors for activities as long as weather permits, Vukmanich said.
Both Engebritson and Vukmanich said that they’ve received emails from parents wondering about various aspects of the plans. The district posted its comprehensive back-to-school plan on the district website on Tuesday, and emailed it to parents as well, and Engebritson said that she’s getting as much updated information out as she can to help parents plan.

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