The future of education in Michigan remains murky in the wake of COVID-19. Superintendent of Grandville Public Schools, Roger Bearup, did not mince words when it came to his reaction to the global pandemic’s recent developments.
“Our jobs are quite different now,” said Bearup of his staff. “Whether we wanted them to be or not, they are, and so we’re tackling that and looking at every phase and doing our best to provide the best quality Grandville education we can.”
Like every school district in Michigan, Grandville Public Schools has been drafting a plan for the 2020-21 school year for months. When in-person instruction for the 2019-20 school year was shut down prematurely in March, students finished the year virtually. In late July, an overdue graduation ceremony was safely carried out for the Class of 2020, officially closing the book on the unprecedented school year.
Now, students, educators and parents look ahead to the 2020-21 school year just weeks away from its beginning.
“I’m intrigued by what (the 2020-21 school year) will bring from a creativity standpoint,” said Grandville High School principal Adam Lancto. “Not only did the Class of 2020 suffer, so did all of the students. We need to bring them back and be there for them. There’s really no time to worry about how we’re going to do that other than to just put one foot in front of the other and start doing it.”
On June 30, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued the MI Safe Schools Roadmap, designed for a safe return to in-person schooling this fall. A detailed process of action and stipulations were laid out according to six different phases. The state currently faces Phase 4 of the Roadmap, and Grandville Public Schools is prepared to operate accordingly.
“Phase 4 allows us to be in-person and/or remote,” said Bearup. “We, from early June, had said our wish is to be in person. But if we can’t be in person, we know we’re going to need a robust, remote education that looks like a Grandville education.”
Phase 4 essentially means that while new reported cases of COVID-19 and related deaths have fallen for a period of time, overall case numbers are still relatively high. This allows schools to offer in-person instruction assuming required safety protocols are abided by. Bearup said Grandville is fully prepared to operate within Phase 4 for the entirety of the school year.
“If we continue to focus on Phase 4, we’ll have our strong, in-person education with the parameters in place and we’ll also have that robust, remote learning experience,” said Bearup. “No matter what happens from here to the time school starts, we know we’ll be prepared for that. Because we’re living in Phase 4 and there’s no indication we’ll be going back to phase three at this point, we’re continuing with Phase 4.”
While in-person learning is being safely planned by the district, parents also have the option to keep their children home to learn virtually, which will look very similar to the spring. However, the majority of Grandville parents are in favor of in-person learning this fall. The graphic below shows Grandville parents’ preferences for their children’s 2020-21 schooling as the results of a survey taken during the stay-at-home order in the spring.
Regardless of what the popular choice is, parents will have the option. When making the decision to send their children back to in-person school or keep them learning from home, parents may find themselves weighing the non-academic aspects of school a bit heavier than normal. Sarah Claus is a mother of two students in the district, and after many thoughtful conversations with her husband, decided that in-person instruction is best for her children.
“We talked a lot about the options, but the biggest thing for us is (our children’s) social and emotional health,” said Claus. “They really want to be able to be with their friends that they haven’t seen in six months and they want to be with their teachers.”
At the same time, the option that the parents have allows them to make the choice that they see best fit for their specific situation. That understanding is important, as Claus said.
“Whatever a parent chooses for their own children is the right thing to do, no matter what it is,” said Claus. “This is a time to build each other up and support one another and not second guess or belittle anyone’s choice.”
Nonetheless, whether parents commit their children to in-person or remote learning from the jump may not matter. A positive test for COVID-19 in any given classroom would force the entire class to quarantine, something that Bearup also made clear that Grandville is prepared for.
“We know that our kids, more than likely, are going to be in person sometimes and maybe have to jump to remote,” said Bearup. “We can’t have time to plan for that, we’ve got to be able to have our kids bounce back and forth at a moment’s notice.”
Bearup said he is well aware of the short-notice whirlwind that a positive test could create, saying that educators must be ready to jump to remote teaching at the drop of a hat, while the students must have that same adaptability.
The importance of in-person learning may be valued more to some than others, but to kindergarten teacher Allie McLaughlin of Grand View Elementary, the face-to-face interaction with younger students is extremely valuable.
“There’s just no distinction between me being a real person and me being this teacher that (students) only see behind a screen,” said McLaughlin. “It would make me really sad if their first experience with school would be through a screen and not in a classroom learning social skills.”
The constant mask-wearing is just one challenge that students will face in 2020-21, and another variable so far from the norm. Regardless, Bearup said he understands the importance that masks play in preventing the spread of the virus, while also being sympathetic to said challenge to students. The MI Safe Schools Roadmap only requires masks to be worn by kindergarten through fifth grade students when moving from room to room, but Grandville will require masks to be worn at all times.
“We are going to be doing things that aren’t required, but we’re going to make them requirements just because we are able to do them and we think they’re the safest things to do,” said Bearup.
At the end of the day, Bearup and Grandville Public Schools are playing “monkey see, monkey do.” The district will abide by the orders it’s given by Whitmer, and Bearup said he believes that it has the confidence and versatility to adapt, providing the quality education that Grandville takes great pride in.
“Our parents send their kids to us because of that; because of the relationships our staff have with our community, because of the success that their kids have had over time,” said Bearup. “We are continuing to do our best, no matter what the situation we’re faced with, to be able to provide — whether in person or in a remote world — quality Grandville education.”