South-Western Subject Matter: District strives for happy memories amid virus

BILL WISE
Bill Wise

From back-to-school shopping to the first bus ride, the start of a new school year brings back fond memories for most of us.

I can draw on my own experiences, those of my children and those of the students the South-Western City School District is blessed to serve.

One of my favorite experiences happened a few years ago, at the end of the first day of school.

I was helping a first-grader get on the correct bus. The previous year, this student was in a half-day kindergarten program. I asked him how his first day of school was and he responded that if school days keep getting longer as you get older, he was not sure second grade was for him.

It is unfortunate that we will not have students in a face-to-face environment to start the coming school year. This is not what we want, and it is not what many parents want for their children.

There is a sense of loss and frustration as many of us want to get back to the way things were before the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

This is especially true when we look at the experiences we want for our children.

While as individuals, we have our opinions on what should be, could be or needs to be done, perhaps the most unifying opinion is that we want our children to be safe, healthy, happy and learning.

Fortunately, we live in an age where technology has the ability to assist us in communicating and interacting in ways simply not feasible a decade ago.

I have watched as multiple students shared and edited a document in real time. Five different cursors moved on the screen while each student commented and edited away.

While we fundamentally believe that face-to-face instruction is superior, we at least have an infrastructure that allows for learning and interaction to take place online.

As we start the school year, more than 2,700 students have chosen to be educated in our Virtual Learning Academy for the entire school year.

Many of these students were simply not comfortable returning to campus without a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment.

In essence, the academy will be the largest program, or school, in the district.

The majority of students will receive instruction remotely to start the year, with the hope of returning to face-to-face classes at some point.

Based on the unpredictable nature of the virus and the way in which community spread impacts our operations, these students likely will be asked to transition between face-to-face and remote-learning environments at various times throughout the school year.

The best opportunity for students to return to and stay in the classroom safely is to lower the risk across our community.

The wearing of face masks, good hygiene practices and social distancing are the layered protocols that can make a difference.

Our most treasured asset is looking at all of us for how to respond. We want them to have the nostalgic memories so many of us have, even though the school day does seem to get longer after kindergarten and elementary school.

Bill Wise is the superintendent of the South-Western City School District.