Students will keep on learning, but with different methods

— Alan Dale for the Laurel Advocate

LAUREL — Laurel Concord Coleridge School shut its doors last week to students in response to the COVID-19 pandemic concerns sweeping the world.

That doesn’t mean the administrators and teachers aren’t still plying their craft, it just means education in Laurel and the surrounding area will take a different tact in the face of this unprecedented moment in time.

“The most challenging aspects related to the current health situation resulting in school closure has been the uncertainty and changing status from day to day, and in some cases hour by hour,” LCC Supt. Jeremy Christiansen said. “It’s difficult to provide our faculty, staff, students and families with accurate, updated information that has had a tendency to evolve so quickly. Most have come to recognize this challenge not only at the local, but all the state and national levels.”

Christiansen said he believes the dissemination of accurate and timely information helps to reduce overall fears and concerns for everyone. 

This situation, despite Christiansen’s cool hand in this, still was not something he and others of his ilk prepared for while going to school to become an administrator.  

“While there certainly is not one course at the post-graduate level devoted to handling and managing pandemic situations, much attention in educational leadership programs is dedicated to effective communication, strategic decision-making, and community partnership and engagement,” he said. 

Prior to his current position as superintendent, he served in the role of principal for 17 years.  During that time, there were many situations that one might consider challenging that have helped him to develop and grow as a leader.  

“While this health situation is certainly novel and unique for all of us, our efforts to work collaboratively as a Board of Education, school administration, and teaching staff, have thus far proven to be effective,” he said.  

The implementation of the school lunch delivery service which began Monday and is expected to serve 45 percent of the students will be essentially going from prototype status to real world in a matter of days.

Christiansen has been pleased with the efforts of both students and staff alike.

“The principals and I have been so proud of the response and efforts of our faculty and staff members as we prepare for the uncertainty of the school year and education moving forward,” he said. “I believe the efforts we all have put in so far have proven valuable in helping the staff feel better prepared to meet the needs of our students from a distance. We continue to witness much empathy, care, flexibility, encouragement, and support both for and from our school community.”

Elementary principal Paige Parsons hoped to see the schools hold off a little longer before closing and is hopeful they will back in school in two weeks without much reported “community spread” in the area. 

However, with the growing numbers nationally, local numbers may not make a difference as the district plans its next potential steps while the community deals with the crisis.

“They didn’t teach us ‘pandemic’ in our principal courses,” Parsons said. “We will just game plan for the rest of the school year. You never think it would ever happen. I always prepare if there is a fire in the building or if there is a tornado: You always have back up plans. This blindsided us.” 

She said the high school students, “are going to feel this the most, wanting to be independent.”

“It will take family to tell them ‘no, you need to stay home with immediate family, or we will continue to spread this,’” she said. 

The younger children have a whole different set of problems to deal with, she said. 

“Our little kids are a little confused. I have three triplets at home, and we have everything from, ‘mom, we have the coronavirus,’ to ‘mom, if you go outside, you are going to get the coronavirus.’ So, it’s been about educating them and here is what we are going to do to stay safe and not blow things out of proportion,” she said.

LCC will move to an online home-based teaching process to continue the school year in some manner.

“While plans and logistics are not finalized, we would do our best to creatively meet the educational needs of our students via technology and online learning resources,” Christiansen said. “In most cases - grades 5-12 - our teachers will continue to interact with their students face-to-face digitally using teleconference platforms. In the event of an extended school closure, we would need to make decisions regarding our youngest learners and how best to address their educational needs,” he said.

Regardless of what plan they come up with, it’s still not the same as having a teacher in charge of a classroom full of students, he said. 

“The reality is, that any modified, contingency learning opportunities, ultimately fall short of the actual teaching and learning that would have occurred as part of uninterrupted school year,” he said.

Middle school science and social studies teacher Amy Hall is prepared and positive about taking classes the online route to continue the schooling process which reconvened online Monday.

“I had 15 kids that wanted to get going and didn’t want to wait until Monday,” Hall said. “Kids are resilient. They are willing to try and that’s just great. Their school is in a situation where they had (MacBooks) sent home with them. They knew they weren’t going to be left without any options.

“There are some things kids have to know to get to the next level and things they have to experience. Just because school isn’t how we want it to look, there are things we still need to be done.”

Hall said that while talking about the outbreak in the class, there were concerns about the virus and its effects.

“They weren’t concerned about them getting it, but more about being carriers,” Hall said. “That is a true fear. Keeping that home situation as normal as possible is such a key focus.”

The sad thing for the LCC community will be seeing all their efforts to work around this public health threat end in the schools never getting back into the classroom.

“Our entire school community will be tremendously disappointed if we are unable to reestablish our regular school day and instructional routine this year,” Christiansen said. “Our students and teachers have much left to experience and accomplish. I particularly am disappointed for our senior students.  For them, the possibility of the school year cut short is not a vacation.  It’s time they won’t get to spend with their classmates and friends the last few months before they graduate. We must show them support and encouragement during these uncertain times.”  

Parsons feels confident the staff and students can handle a return to classes regardless of when and how.

“I have no doubt that our staff will be able to do what’s best for the kids,” she said.

One thing the community can bask in is a recent state basketball tournament won by the boys only days before the shutdown took place.

“Our school community has most definitely been riding a wave of school pride and excitement leading up to and following the recent boys basketball state championship,” Christiansen said. “While our school district draws from several communities, this experience has shined a light on the current and future potential that comes from alignment of efforts and resources as one school.”

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