Illini Bluffs Elementary School
Tracy Herrmann, 4th Grade Teacher
“Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”
Regardless of whether it was Robert Schuller, Winston Churchill, or Walter Payton who is credited with making the above statement, it is definitely a truism to remind ourselves of, given our current circumstances. All of us in education are reminding ourselves that WE CAN DO IT, something we’ve often told our students. We now find ourselves in a position to show our students what we’ve told them for years…where there’s a will, there’s a way. But…whew, it’s overwhelming (understatement of the year!) and certainly no small task! But again, when thinking about our responsibility to our students, it’s WORTH IT. THEY ARE WORTH IT.
They need us more than ever, as do so many of our students’ families who need to get back to work to feed their families, and getting their kids back to school is critical in that endeavor. When the Illinois State Board of Education released guidance for schools regarding the 2020-21 school year back in June, our heads were spinning. Our state let us know there were many things to consider, including but not limited to: how on earth are we going to manage in person learning given masks and social distancing, not to mention scheduling, transportation, serving breakfast and lunch, and all of the countless measures we would need to put into place to keep everyone safe and healthy, all while re-engaging students in the learning process. Our state made it very clear that in person learning was the priority, and we know as teachers that our students learn best when they are with us, and when they are with each other. Our students need to share strategies, questions, comments, and they need to learn how to work collaboratively. This said, it seemed the impossible dream to pull off in person learning given the parameters, but when over 75% of our students’ families let us know that they wanted their children to return to school for in person learning, we knew we were all in this together.
Our Return to School Committee met numerous times over the course of the summer and was comprised of school staff members across many job classifications including representatives from transportation, food service, maintenance, counselors, athletics, teachers, administrative support staff, and administrators, and we talked things backwards and forwards. Plans were made, changed, discussed, cussed, (!) revised yet again…you get the idea. We reminded ourselves that there is no elimination of risk, there is only mitigation. There were no easy answers, but I am so, so thankful to look back on the past five weeks and think, it has actually worked, we’ve actually conducted IN PERSON learning for FIVE WEEKS! Woot woot! It paid off to spend countless hours in preparation and for our district to spend tens of thousands of dollars on everything from hands free temperature taking machines to touchless hand sanitizer stations to backpack electrostatic disinfectant sprayers, you name it, if it has to do with sanitizing and/or distancing, we’ve ordered it or creatively fashioned our own.
The bottom line is, when reflecting back on what has been done in a relatively short period of time, I’m humbled. As a staff we are prepared to go in and out of remote learning if and when too many students and/or teachers test positive, but until then, we are teaching like our hair is on fire, building critical relationships with our students, and reminding our students of the JOY in learning new things!
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