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Education Today: Getting kids back to class in Storm Lake

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STORM LAKE, Iowa (KTIV) -- In a little more than 2 weeks, students will be headed back to school in Storm Lake, Iowa.

Superintendent Stacey Cole said they've built in five "transition" days for students to get reacquainted with buildings and teachers. Those five days will run from August 19-25, with August 26 as the official start day for school.

“I think we can all agree that our kids need to be in school," said Cole.

That goal is something educators across Siouxland echo. But for many, including those in Storm Lake Community Schools, that school day is going to look quite different.

"We believe today we will start in a hybrid plan come August 19th and then leading up to that first day of school," said Cole.

But that hybrid plan may look different than what you think. Under it, only high school students will come to school for half of a day, every day.

"So our high school students will actually go to a half face-to-face model, a half virtual model which allows us to open up some space in this building in the high school," said Cole. "Then if we can do that, then we can move 7th and 8th grade from their building here, open up the middle school to spread out K-6, and then that's actually what allows us to spread the kids out between the two buildings and really create those spaces where we can socially distance," said Cole.

Cole said another unique option, community partners around town are opening up their facilities for the school to use. Meaning some of the oldest high schoolers will spend their in-person time getting instruction around town instead of at the high school.

That hybrid plan also utilizes a “pod” concept.

In the pod situation, instead of having students transition in the hallway from classroom to classroom, students would be secluded to just one classroom throughout their entire day.

“Our plan really focuses around keeping people in isolated areas to really reduce the chances that they are going to spread any viruses outside of their pod," said Cole "When they're in a pod, they're going to have less students then they would have had a year ago in their room which will allow for less structures in the room, which will allow for social distancing."

Cole said they'll still find ways to give younger kids the opportunity to do recess, as well as find ways to use their lunchrooms while still social distancing.

"You know, we're just being honest with people," said Cole "Sometimes kids are going to eat in their classrooms, and sometimes they're going to have the opportunity to eat in the lunchroom."

Cole said it was important for them to get kids back into school because that time away can have a big impact on them.

"Kindergarten through 2nd grade, when you get those foundational literacy and math skills, that is a really important time in development," said Cole. "If our upcoming 1st graders and 2nd graders, if they had to go through another 10-week break, even if it was intermittent throughout the school year, that could be really detrimental."

Cole said under their plan though, parents will have the option to choose in-person or online.

"We absolutely understand and respect the fact that some people will not be comfortable sending their kids back regardless of the environment that we are able to create," said Cole.

Cole said when it comes to masks, they'll be highly encouraged where social distancing isn't possible and while everyone may not be happy with the plan, she said…

"We know that there isn't a perfect plan and no plan will make everyone happy, but we hope that our public recognizes that we really are trying to respond to all the needs across the district," said Cole.

Cole said if one pod experiences a confirmed case of COVID-19, they can address it with that pod only, rather than needing to make a school-wide decision.

She said they are still waiting on more guidance from Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds when it comes to quarantining.

Michaela Feldmann

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