The countdown to back to school is on, and while the start of the 2020-21 year might look different from past openings, Tangipahoa Parish School Superintendent Melissa Stilley said her team is working harder than ever before to make this the best yet.
“Our team is excited to welcome our students back to campus,” Stilley said. “We are following all CDC and state health department recommendations, and we are ready to start the 2020-21 school year ’Stronger Together.’”
Stilley said the Aug. 12 opening date will mark a period of approximately eight “soft start” dates when a limited number of students will come on campus to become acclimated to their school’s new routines in response to COVID-19.
“First and foremost, our soft start days will be used to teach students procedures and protocols that will keep them safe during the pandemic,” Stilley said, adding that it will also be a time when students will receive their Chromebooks and be taught how to used them in the virtual classroom.
“This investment of time on the front end will help to ensure a better start to the school year, regardless if the student is full virtual or attending classes on campus,” Stilley said.
Depending on grade level and in some cases, based on the first letter of a student’s last name, students will attend a staggered schedule those first few days of classes. As part of the soft start plan, each elementary and junior high student will have four consecutive in-person days with their teachers before classes gear up on Aug. 24. High school students will attend just a day or two initially, depending on grade level. Stilley said these will be full days of school. Students must report to campus in uniform and face coverings are mandatory. During the soft start, transportation is available for all students on their assigned attendance days, and a free healthy breakfast and lunch will be available for all students.
CDC and state health officials strongly recommend that schools limit the number of visitors on campus. Under the current guidelines, families are encouraged to send only their students to campus right now.
“In the past, we have had families coming on campus with their students on the first day of school. Unfortunately, the pandemic-driven protocols that have been put in place to keep our students safe do not allow us the opportunity for parents to walk their children to class at this time,” Stilley said.
She noted that some families may prefer not to come to campus at all, even for these “soft start” orientation programs. In that event, families should make their wishes known to their individual school and set up an appointment to complete orientation at a separate time.
While the first day of school is just around the corner, Stilley said it is not too late for parents to register their children for the virtual option that the district will offer this year. Registration for the virtual learning program is as simple as clicking on the TangiSchools.org
website and signing up, Stilley said.
The district’s new virtual program is far more involved than the optional learning resources students were provided when campuses closed down in March. Stilley said local teachers who are considered experts in their content area worked through the campus closure and summer months to develop the new virtual instruction that will be offered this fall.
“Our virtual classrooms will focus on the same high-quality curriculum our traditional students receive delivered in a dynamic, technologically-rich format,” Stilley said. Teachers will reach out to virtual students in a variety of ways, including email, phone calls, and Zoom conferencing. She said teachers will adapt their interpersonal communication to cater to the both the student and the child’s family.
“When I think about virtual learning, I see opportunities for greater communication and even stronger partnerships between school and home,” Stilley said. “I think our families who choose this method are going to be really impressed with the planning and the curriculum that our team has put into this program."
ADDITIONAL SAFETY PRECAUTIONS
Stilley said schools are taking ample precautions to help students stay safe during the pandemic. In addition to rigorous cleaning and disinfecting practices, each campus is also establishing a designated “sick room” for any child exhibiting symptoms during the school day.
“We encourage families to provide multiple contacts on file with the school secretary in the event the school needs to contact them at any point during the day,” Stilley said.
While the district has prioritized student and staff safety, Stilley said employees recognize there is always room for improvement. She encourages families to share their suggestions and concerns by emailing CovidConcerns@TangiSchools.org
“We are entering uncharted territory this fall, but I have no doubt that we will all work together with the same mission of creating safe learning environments for our students,” Stilley said.