Across the counties each school handled COVID differently. The policies, the distancing and the activities lost were a difficult time for everyone and as conditions improve so have the students.
Administration in all schools have seen a great improvement in their students’ grades, energy and willingness to be in school.
“I think students were happier to be back at school. A lot of them commented that they appreciated being back because now they can ask for help. That was one of the challenging things with COVID, they couldn’t ask the teacher for help, or they could but it had to be online. They didn’t always get an immediate response and they still had some questions where it’s different from emailing a teacher to just asking questions,” said Travis Heavin, Angola High School principal.
Being in school allows students to develop social skills, get direct help, work with those they may not communicate with at home and get a well rounded education. COVID-19 hindered many in their studies but the schools are working hard to give students the education they deserve.
“Even last year just working with local health officials, our school board, our superintendent and our community to put the best plan in place so students could have some normalcy when returning with restrictions but not as tight of restrictions. It kind of helped boost morale and send positive messages around. I think the big thing for us is having all students return to in person learning; not having some of your students in person and some in virtual. You bring back everybody and your friend groups are all together again,” said Dekalb High School Principal Marcus Wagner.
Social activities return
As COVID restrictions lightened the schools tried to bring back as much normalcy as possible. Many things such as pep rallies, assemblies and extra curricular activities were taken away. East Noble Principal Kathy Longenbaugh began giving the students those activities back as soon as it was safe for everyone.
“On the last Friday of the school year, we have a big cookout for the kids and we go down to the football field. We serve lunch outside, we have a live band and we have activities on the football field. We had our first assembly with the kids in April and we did our cookout in May,” said Longenbaugh. “We had our senior breakfast in the cafeteria and all of the kids could sit next to one another. That was exciting for us to be able to do those things for kids again and not worry that we have kids spaced out.”
One area of school that was greatly affected by the restrictions that COVID brought was the lunch room. Lunch staff had many added responsibilities when providing individual lunches. Every food had to be separate and items like buffets and salad bars were no longer allowed. Many schools had to restrict the foods they bought or change their menus completely. Not only did the food change but many schools lost the social aspect of lunch.
“Our lunch last year, everything was individualized because we have four main lines. We simply offer our students about four main different entrees selections, if not up to six. Then they have box lunches, different parfaits, different quick grab items and pretzels every day. The kids probably have close to 10 different options of an entree. My message to our cafeteria staff was making sure that we don’t eliminate those options. I, know that we couldn’t just say we’re going to serve like normal, had our cafeteria staff pre-packaged everything. Everything was in its own individual container, so every vegetable, every fruit was individualized. We also had the recommendation to try to sit kids on one side of the table,” said Wagner. “When you have 1,100 kids you have to get creative. We had ordered more tables and we put everybody sitting on one side of the table facing one direction. We zoned the cafeteria and what I mean by that is we assign classes and teachers by zone depending upon the number of kids because of contact tracing. So lunch this year we went back to really heavy to normal lunch, and I think kids appreciate that. Kids appreciated being able to pick where they want to sit.”
Lunch normalcy back
Angola also saw much more happiness in their students when lunches began to be less restrictive. They saw very little issues and the students were more social throughout the day.
“I don’t think we had any issues in lunches or anything because we were happy to be around each other. It was a nice social break for students. The last couple of weeks we were able to go outside and a lot of kids went outside and they enjoyed that,” Heavin said. “Lunches were very fun to supervise because kids were talking and it was normal. That was probably the best part of going back to normal was lunches went back to being normal. Before with COVID, kids just kind of ate and it looked like prison because they were just sitting. They had to sit away from each other. There wasn’t a lot of talking. Now for the kids, the most normal thing was back to lunch and talking.”
Along with lunch the social aspect of classes and group work was taken from the students during COVID.
“One of the things that we did is prior to COVID, we’d have a desk that can be put together in like 30 different combinations for flexible seating. So they can make a circle, they can make a pod or they can make like a snake,” said Longenbaugh. “Depending on what the teacher is doing is how they organize their classroom, but it’s not the cemetery rows where kids sit in rows and this is what we do. We had to go back to those rows and that was hard for teachers and kids to go back to that way of sitting.”
Even as life began to go back to normal improvement came with some COVID restrictions. Virtual learning had to quickly improve and adapt to the need to learn from home. The schools have in turn taken this as an opportunity to give students options for when they are sick, away from home or any other issue that keeps them from attending in-person classes.
“I don’t think we’ll ever be totally back to normal. We have more kids doing online classes for credit recovery, which is good,” Heavin said.
The COVID experience has led to greater opportunities for students to take dual credit offerings through Trine University’s virtual learning program, TrineOnline.
“Our goal is to have more kids for dual credit, more kids on our (advanced placement) program because now we can offer those classes here and we are looking at more TrineOnline dual credit classes. We’re going to see more kids at our school taking more dual credit classes through TrineOnline and we can monitor them and help them more,” said Heavin.
Even with today’s technology there are still large barriers with online learning. Many schools saw a decrease in grades over COVID because students weren’t able to have direct instruction.
“We watch the data all the time and you can see where there was a big COVID outbreak and a large number of kids had to quarantine and their grades did go down,” said Logenbaugh. “This third trimester was from February to May. We had the highest grades that we have had in three years because there was no COVID, there was no quarantine.”