'It's been chaos:' Parents struggle to get kids back in school

’It’s been chaos: ’ Parents struggle to get kids back in school

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. - The 2020 school year has started for many Michiana schools but because of the coronavirus, each district is changing the way it does things.

While some are doing in-person, hybrid or virtual learning plans, St. Joseph Public Schools are taking a phased-in approach easing kids back into school. The plan put in place to help ease worries and allow school officials to fix any problems that come up.

It has been a hectic time for many. When asked to describe this time, one parent said it's been a crazy ride.

“It's been chaos," Carey Rellis, a parent of two St. Joseph High School students said. "I think we've developed a whole new focus. It's had a tremendous impact on how we think about our children, their responsibility, our responsibility to their learning in their future, and the priority has been placed on keep the peace, okay, don't push too hard. This is an extraordinary circumstance, and so unexpected and so long-lasting, and so much unknown still ahead of us. So let's focus on peace and happiness.”

When you walk into high school, you see how school officials are keeping students safe. Everything from hand sanitizer to masks to marked one-way hallways. 

You see the effect of the signage during the passing period as students are corralled to their next class safely and in one direction.

“The oldest is a senior this year and the youngest is a freshman had his first soccer game last night," Rellis said. "I've never seen our kids so happy to go to school. So we're excited. I think we're all aware that it's going to feel different, especially with the staggered, slower phased-in approach,”

“Nobody really knows what this will look like until we actually run it. You know, how we run our plan and how things go here at the school. So that'll be different from what we've ever done before. So that creates a lot of anxiety for people because it's an unknown," Dr. Tom Bruce, the Superintendent for St. Joseph Public Schools said. "How do we create all these new plans for how students move through the hallway? How do we clean how to clean every four hours, even students using the restroom, eating lunch is all this is different. So we create we've created all these plans, but we've created them without people. In them. And so if anything's a variable, students are variable, right?"

The phased-in approach has gained criticism, but school officials say it's the best way to ease fears and fix any problems as they come.

“Our first week has four days. So we're doing 25% of the students each day. For a half-day. The second week, we're going to do half days for the first two days with half the kids. So we go more students again for half the day, still not running lunch," Dr. Bruce said. "And then the second two days, we're going to go half kids all day long, running lunch, running big dismissal, everything as normal and then Friday's off. Friday is not really off. That's when we're really watching the remote. The third week is normal, all kids all day."

“We're really excited to have a routine again and get back into the schedule. So this week, it's one half-day, next week. I don't even remember if it's a day and a half and then one virtual day or two full days. So it is a little confusing," Rellis said.

“I've been an art teacher for just shy of 20 years," Joe Fralick, a Middle School Art Teacher said. “It's gonna be a bit of a moving target. But you have to reflect on what's going well, what could be improved. And so we're going to make adjustments throughout this year and things will probably work better in a week than it will on the first day.”

“This is a completely new, new sort of thing for us," Susan Hunnell, the Life Management Program Middle School Teacher said. "Having a small group of kids to begin with, we'll be able to get to know those kids a little bit better, more quickly, and be able to practice some of those procedures and learn some of the things that we're going to do safety-wise, with the smaller group, it just is a little easier to make sure that everybody's really comfortable with that before you have the whole big group together.”

But some classes, like Hunnel's which are more hands-on, are harder to recreate virtually.

“That is difficult. I've really at that point, I'm going to look for some help from parents support from the parents as far as like, having them maybe do some things at their house, maybe involving them in cooking or maybe a laundry, that kind of thing, but we will be doing, you know, videos, questions, I'll be presenting some different information to them. Virtually in a class a couple of times a week," she said.

“You know, I'm not worried about the curriculum. I'm not worried so much if I have to go remote. Right now I'm solely focusing on the safety of our kids," Fralick said.

“As long as they've got their mask on and we're following the other safety procedures. I think we're doing the best that we can," Hunnell said.

“Our final numbers right now are around 77% of our kids want to be face to face. So about 23% went virtual. So that survey was pretty accurate. They have to be in the virtual program for at least a trimester at the elementary or at least a semester at the secondary level," Dr. Bruce said.

“It was sort of taboo," Rellis said. "We have group texts among the moms of you know, the friend groups of our, our kids. And no one would say, hey, I'm doing this, what are you doing? They'd say, would you mind sharing what you're doing? Everyone I know is going back in person. The kids begged for it. And that's how much they crave that social interaction, the opportunity to be with their peers and learn from their peers.”

School for St. Joseph students started Tuesday and they still have a couple of weeks until schedules become normal again.

If you have a question regarding a school reopening, email us at [email protected] and we will get to it right away.

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