By the end of March, we were shut down statewide ... the kids went home for Spring Break and never came back. ... until August.
School districts across the state scrambled for solutions to the new reality. How do we teach kids in this last Quarter before Summer?
Wealthy urban counties spent money and added to their already substantial educational technology base.
Less wealthy (that's a nice way of saying poor) rural counties not only lacked an adequate school technology base, but a huge percentage of our kids have little or no tech at home.
Even if they do, our county is the size of the state of Rhode Island and almost completely rural. For many of our residents, there is no reliable internet where they live. (That is true for teachers too ... at least for me) So we had to adjust and do it quickly.
Most of our kids are free and reduced meal qualified too. Suddenly we had to create a food AND educational delivery system.
Our county's emergency solution for that final quarter of the 2019-2020 school year was "PACKETS".
In the packet system, each teacher produced a week's worth of assignments that could be done without the internet. These packets and a week's worth of packaged free meals went out also. Buses loaded with food and lesson packets headed out to drop off food and lessons along the bus driver's usual route.
The kids and parents met us at the bus stops and we exchanged supplies and assignments.
We did that until Summer Break at the end of May. There was none of the usual EOC (End Of Course exams) and standardized testing in the 4th Quarter.
Overall, the packets were an educational flop. For a lot of reasons, which I won't go into here.
Summers end as they always do.
Before we knew it, August arrived and we were back... Not back to packets or some high-tech vision of the online home school.
We were back in the classroom with 3 options for our students.
1) Traditional classroom learning but socially distanced as much as possible. NO MASK MANDATE FOR STUDENTS OR STAFF.
(note: I wore a mask from day 1 and still do at work, even though I am now vaccinated. The vaccine protects me from illness but doesn't mean I can't spread the virus. Also, for most of this school year, I wasn't vaccinated and the safety of my frontline Covid nurse wife was a high priority.
2) A "Hybrid" System where the student received most of their education online but had the option to come to class as needed.
3) Total Online at home using online platforms like Google Classroom and Google Meets so the teacher could deliver classroom content to the student in their home.
As a teacher, you had to cover all 3 of these bases with every lesson plan ...2 of which required decent internet access at home. Which we knew was not the truth on the ground.
Note: One reality of teaching at small rural schools is teachers have far more "preps" or subjects to teach in your day. I know teachers at large urban schools who teach only one subject all day. I teach 6 different science subjects each day. This is what rural teachers do around the country in small counties.
The first semester, from August to Christmas break was marked by teachers stressing over covering all the bases listed above, kids stressing over poor or nonexistent internet, and frequent rolling quarantine absences. (Again... no county mask mandate)
Quarantines tended to last about 7-10 days and lots of my students were quarantined multiple times.
These repeated quarantines occurred at other schools in the county also.
A typical situation would be waiting at my classroom door for a Biology class to show up and 3 kids would walk into the room.
"It's just us Mr.P, they all got quarantined." That was repeated over and over during this school year.
"Hey, Mr. P, they're walking around with the Stick again, get ready for another quarantine."
The "Stick" is a 6-foot long stick used to quickly check for the social distancing of desks during contact tracing. This is a necessary, but time-consuming tactic in fighting Covid.
After Christmas break, responding to feedback from the schools, the county changed the plans from three options to two.
1) Full time in the classroom as normal.
2) Full-time online education via a program that is a self-contained program, not reliant on the classroom teacher.
That was a great relief.
Most students chose the classroom option.
Still no change in the mask situation though, so the absences due to quarantine returned.
I did some absentee number crunching just for my classes as the 3rd term ended.
One thing to understand about our school, before we look at the numbers is that Cedar Key School is the smallest true public school in the state of Florida. The town of Cedar Key is a geographically isolated island community.
The school is pre-K through 12, our student population is around 260, and 72% of our kids are classified as "economically disadvantaged".
I share that so when you see my class sizes, the small numbers will make sense.
For my 8th graders (2 classes of about 9 each), the class average number of days absent was 14. The 8th grade has the lowest numbers... probably because they are too young to drive, which reduces the amount of out-of-school "hanging out together" they can do.
Between the two 8th grade classes, 5 were out more than 20 days and with the highest being 31 days and 26 days.
The average absences for my 2 biology classes (10th grade) were 23 days.
Marine Science (11th grade) the average similar at 22 days. In those 3 classes, the most days missed were 48, 41, and 49.
In those 3 classes, 24 kids had more than 20 days absent.
In my Environmental Science class at the end of the day, the average number of days absent was 28. This tiny class has only 8 kids in it.
Six of those kids had more than 20 days out. The student with the highest number of days absent hit 47 days out.
All of these numbers are as of March 9, 2021.
Yes, we have had actual kids and staff at school sick with Covid. The absentee numbers are a mix of normal events, illness, and of course frequent quarantines.
I expect we will see more rolling quarantines in the near future. We are currently on Spring Break.
My wife and her staff at the Health Department administered over 11,400 Covid vaccine doses as of this posting and they have vaccination events weekly based on their allocation. Also, local providers are vaccinating folks.
That makes me very optimistic for a far more normal 2021-2022 school year.
We still have a full quarter to go before the Summer break.