Middle and high school students in the Anoka-Hennepin School District returned to the classroom in the hybrid learning format this week. It's the new normal for students and staff due to the pandemic.
“Kids were saying it was weird and different,” said Tom Shaw, principal at Coon Rapids Middle School. He was referring to the reaction of middle school students who returned to face to face classes.
Shaw said that students were happy to be back, and connecting with their teachers again.
“And so our lesson today is going to be all about imagery and symbols,” explained English teacher Tyler Schmidt, to his eighth graders at Coon Rapids Middle School. There were a small number of students in the classroom, compared to the number of empty desks. Most of his students were learning online.
Schmidt told his online students, "Distance learners, you have an option right now, you can go ahead and do Steps 2, 3, and 4, independently or you can stick around for Step 2.”
"And it's all through trial and error," Shaw said about this new way of teaching middle school students.
There are around 1,600 students attending Coon Rapids Middle School, with many learning online only.
“A third of our kids chose to just stay home and learn from home full-time. One-third of our kids are on an A-day and so, that’s about 500 kids, and then about 500 kids are on a B-day.”
While the focus is on learning, the school's top priority is the health and safety of everyone in the school building, which means cleaning high-touch surfaces frequently.
Inside the cafeteria, staff quickly wiped down and disinfected tables, before each lunch period began.
“They’ve been wearing masks, they’ve been keeping distant and that’s really hard to do when you haven’t seen your friends in a long time or your teachers in a long time.”
To maintain safety measures, school nurses do contact tracing if a student should become ill.
“There’s a very rigid safety protocol our nurses are really well versed in,” said Shaw.
The middle school maintains short-term isolation rooms which can be used for students, until they can be picked up by a family member.
It’s trial by fire, as teachers learn how to engage their students online.
“The best kind of teaching is always in-person,” Shaw said, “but for the kids at home we’re really trying a lot of different things to get them to be a part of the class, and we’re drawing them in much better than we did last March.”
Looking thoughtfully at his laptop computer in the front of the classroom, Tyler Schmidt checked in with his online students, “Alright, distance learners, give me a thumbs up in the chat that you’re ready to move on.”
Principal Tom Shaw says he's using social media to reach out to the Coon Rapids Middle School community on all the latest student-related developments. Meanwhile the Anoka-Hennepin School District is closely monitoring all the Anoka County health data to determine the possibility of bringing elementary students back to the classroom full-time. School officials plan to give parents a two week notice before a change would be made.