'Let's ease into it:' St. Joseph Public Schools slowly reopen with phased-in approach

’Let’s ease into it: ’ St. Joseph Public Schools slowly reopen with phased-in approach

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. - As schools reopen in Indiana, Michigan schools are following closely behind. We have shown you how some schools are opening up with online, hybrid and in-person plans.

This week on the learning curve we’re showing you how one Michigan school district is using a phased-in approach.

When you walk into St. Joseph High School, you see teachers, maintenance crews, and other staff preparing for the first day of school, Tuesday, September 8th. 

It's something no school district has faced.

“I tell people school is like one of those things that everybody counts on. Many of us almost all of us have sat in a desk for 12 years, right. We all kind of know education. And it's their year after year. It's a place where parents drop their kids off in the morning, pick them up at night. They have no fear. They know that they've been learning, playing with your friends and everything pretty safe, right," Dr. Tom Bruce the Superintendent for St. Joseph Public Schools said. "So this year, all of that's different. Nobody really knows what this will look like until we actually run it.”

That's why this school year is going to start differently.

"One of our principals came up with the idea of what if we came to school and we walked in, instead jumped in. In other words, instead of having 3000 kids come in the first day. And let's see if this plan works. Let's ease into it. So we threw that around quite a bit for a while," he said.

The plan? A phased-in approach.

“We came up with our plan, which is our first week has four days. So we're doing 25% of the students each day. For a half-day, we're not even doing lunch, because that's a whole nother variable, right? So as we do that, we'll find out how to our plans work, how efficient are we? What do we need to tweak or fix to make it better," he said. “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. 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. Well, Friday is not really off. That's when we're really watching the remote. Our teachers and our admin staff have really been working hard on the remote piece.”

Transitioning from remote to in-person not only helps ease anxiousness about in-person learning but allows teachers to get a handle on remote learning.

"We're really good face to face. We've been doing that for a number of years. We're very successful. We're we know that game right? The remote game is different. It will not be COVID emergency learning from the spring. It'll be much, much more high expectations, quizzes, tests, grades, attendance," Dr. Bruce said.

When it comes to the first week of half-days before lunch will be in person and the second half of the day will be virtual.

"There'll be doing different types of things depending on the grade level. Sometimes depending on the department, you know, in the secondary, there'll be doing different things in the afternoon. For the lower kids, obviously, they'll be connecting to their teachers," he said.

Students will be able to go back to school like normal starting the third week. 

"Third week is normal, all kids all day. And then the hoping to say face to face as long as possible," he said.

The district has both an online and virtual school, both used on different occasions.

"Now if a student gets sick, just like before they stay home. We're not giving out any attendance awards this year. We want kids to stay home if they're not feeling well. And they would do just like we've done before. They're just receiving work at home as if they were sick. They still keep their teacher their work their pace," Dr. Bruce said. "If we go to remote where we go phase three with a governor's plan, then the students go home that were face to face, and they keep their teacher, but there will be more that live stream google classroom working on things from home remotely."

Because of the coronavirus, this year has presented a whole new set of challenges for every school district. But for St. Joseph Public Schools, a phased-in approach is being used to help ease fears.

"The plans are brand new. I think they're very well thought out. We've been writing, we have well over 200 pages of plans, you know, for the state and everything else. But we haven't had to run them with humans in it. So we want to do that," he said. "Make sure it's efficient, make sure it's practical. And make sure we're doing things the best we can do them. So that and also that take time to connect with kids. So it kind of fed all those things that decreased anxiety allowed us to try those plans out and allowed us time to connect with kids. And then if we have to go remote right away, we've already made that connection. We already know everything works. And we're ready to go."

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