A Park Terrace student wearing a face mask and giving a thumbs up outside

The morning of Monday, September 14 sure didn’t look like a “normal” first day of instruction for a school year. Smaller groups of students rode buses and got rides (Thank you, parents and guardians!) to school. While many others logged into learning from home. While it was a different start, that first week energy – the combination of anticipation, excitement and nerves – was still the same.

Teachers could be seen in the windows of buildings, eagerly anticipating the arrival of students coming to school to learn. Teachers doing Extended Flexible Learning (distance learning) had decked out their teaching spaces at home to look like mini classrooms. Overall and throughout the week, the prevailing sentiment was – It feels good to be back learning together.

“There have been many smiles behind the masks and screens – eyes light up with excitement to be back at school,” said Tom Larson, principal at Westwood Intermediate and Middle School.

What learning looks like

As we start the school year, nearly 4,300 students are learning in the Modified Campus (Hybrid) model and keeping track of what days they are learning at school and what days they are learning at home. Kindergarten and first grade students are coming to school every day. Students in grades 2-12 are at school two days a week and learning at home three days a week.

Mike Callahan, principal at Centerview Elementary, observed how students coming to school were ready to be there even with all the new protocols in place. “We have been so proud of the confidence kids came to school with,” says Mike. “They had positive demeanors and a great awareness of what to expect. Honestly, it was amazing how composed, mindful and ready they were for their first week back.” 

Nearly 2,000 students at all grade levels are learning in the Extended Flexible Learning (distance learning) model. Their learning days are a combination of “live,” real-time learning sessions with their teachers and peers and self-directed learning supported with recorded lessons and posted assignments.

“My child’s EFL teacher has made the start of this year easy, organized, and welcoming,” shared one parent. 

While teachers had two extra days to learn and plan for this unusual start, the year begins in new models for everyone. Teachers, students and families are figuring out the right balance of work and the best ways to engage, a process that will take a little time.

Acclimating to new norms

A Centerview student jumping for joy outside with Principal Callahan

With a couple of cycles of A and B days complete and a full week of learning in the books, new routines and norms are already being formed.

Overall, the week saw high attendance and participation – at school and from home. There was strong compliance with health and safety protocols and few reports of technology-related issues. The technology help desk continues to work through open requests as quickly as possible.

“We are really encouraged with how well this first week has gone,” says Jeff Ronneberg, superintendent. “Nothing about launching and operating two learning models is easy, and of course there have been a few bumps that some people have experienced. We are addressing those while capitalizing on all that has gone so well. I’m confident we’ll keep improving each day and continue to encourage families to contact their teachers or school leadership with any questions.”

The district continues to monitor COVID-19 county case rates and align with Minnesota’s Safe Learning Plan guidelines and will adapt as appropriate during the year. To provide continuity to the first weeks of school and establish routines, no changes to current models will be considered until October unless public health conditions change dramatically.  

“We are prepared for the ways in which we may need to adapt this school year,” says Jeff. “Thanks to our tremendous staff, the partnership and understanding of our families and strong support from our community, I’m confident we will adapt well to any situation that is required.”

View the First Days of School Flickr album.

A student doing extended flexible learning smiling at home in front of a teddy bear
An extended flexible learning teacher smiling in her home classroom set up
Two high school students giving thumbs up outside of the front doors