Heather Cass

Tidioute Community Charter School
Tidioute, Pennsylvania
Heather Cass, TCCS Office Manager & Board Secretary

“Excited to return with masked smiles”

Tidioute Community Charter School is a small rural Kindergarten 4 through 12th grade Charter School with an enrollment of 300 students. We are located in Warren County in the Allegheny National Forest along the Allegheny River.  Our students come from Warren, Titusville, Forest, and Venango Counties and some travel up to 80 miles roundtrip.  Some of our teachers travel 80 to 90 miles round trip. All of this was said to explain that we are rural, remote and spread out.  You would think virtual learning would be ideal to reach all of these students and save the travel time to and from the building.  This spring definitely proved that virtual learning is not for all students. One of the things that our school prides itself on is individualized attention. We are small; we know our students well and are able to meet their needs.  Most of our students come from households where both parents work and 49 % of our families are on government assistance. This spring parents struggled to help their child with their “At home learning” and many of our families had a hard time finding someone to care for their kids during the day.   Keeping students home created a hardship for these families. Reliable internet is also a big issue in our rural area.   Many of our students don’t have internet connection and if they do, it is not band width to handle streaming. To add one more hurdle, one third of our students have an IEP or 504 plans.  As a team we felt that it was hard to meet the needs of our IEP students when they were not in person and did not have unlimited access to support staff. Families that choose virtual learning know the expectations and requirements to learn in this manner.  When students are forced into this type of learning not all students is successful.

After our period of at home learning from March 13th to June 1st the Board of Trustees decided that we needed to return to in person learning if possible this fall.  The Tidioute Charter Board approved a team of 32 employees and community members to develop a full 100% in person return to school plan. The team felt that students learn better in person and we set out to see how we could make this a reality. It took our entire team to make this happen.  This is what our students and families needed.  Our staff felt our student’s social and emotional well-being would also be improved by being in person.  By coming back this fall we were able to identify the needs of our students and close the learning gap created by the mandated at home learning. For example, one of our families has four students that have very unique social and emotional challenges with little to no internet accessibility at their home.   It was imperative that these students returned. Four months of at home learning did not adequately meet the needs of these students. The majority of our families and students were very excited to return to the building this fall.

We spent the summer making changes to our building, moving classrooms and installing a lot of Plexiglas and barriers to help keep our students and staff safe for this return. We made many changes, and have had to reevaluate how you learn during COVID-19.  We feel our staff and administration are doing an amazing job teaching, and keeping our kids engaged during these very trying times.  It shows that when your team is determined to make something work and willing to be flexible and adapt, amazing things can happen.  We have a 1 to 1 technology plan. Employees and each of our 305 students have a school laptop or IPAD. We are prepared if we need to switch to online learning. We are thankful for everyday we can keep our kids in the building and are really hoing to finish the year in person.