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School City of Mishawaka announces virtual start

Published: Jul. 29, 2020 at 5:06 PM EDT
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MISHAWAKA, Ind. (WNDU) - School City of Mishawaka confirms it won’t start the school year with in-person classes.

Instead, students will do live or self-paced virtual learning from August 12th to at least September 18th.

School City made this announcement Wednesday after St. Joseph County Deputy Health Officer Mark Fox unveiled new guidelines for schools re-opening earlier in the day.

School City says those metrics make it impossible for them to have in-person classes.

The district piloted the virtual learning program in summer school and reportedly has seen great success.

“It’s been really fun to do it this way,” remarked Clare Johnson, a 5th grade teacher at Beiger Elementary. “I think as long as you have a teacher who cares and a teacher who wants to teach and a teacher who wants to try new things, I mean, if you’re in the classroom or even if you’re through a computer, I think that experience is going to be great for the kids.”

Parent Lindsey Beckham has two children in the virtual summer school program, an incoming kindergartner and a 5th grader.

“I don’t even know how the teachers do it, but they are really good at engaging kids, even from a distance,” she remarked.

Regarding how the virtual experience rivals in-person instruction, Principal Ben Domonkos, the head of SCM’s summer school, said: “I think that there can be advantages to both, but the virtual is trying to replicate what we’re doing in person. We can’t walk kids down to a hall to get to another virtual room. They have to be kind of on their own with that. So the guidance, in-person, where we can literally take care of them, from when they get here to when they leave versus we can’t control what goes on at home.”

The corporation said it will offer free childcare to employees.

Superintendent of School City of Mishawaka Wayne Barker said: “The expectations of virtual learning are much higher than in the spring...We need to show grace and hopefully we will be able to receive grace. We are talking about a very big change to our learning environment.”

Barker also released the following statement to district families on Wednesday:

Good afternoon, SCM Families,

We understand there are many unknowns and the natural response to what is unfamiliar is often fear and unrest. The truth is that we share similar anxieties. However, we remain committed to working together with you to provide the best learning environment possible for your students

Over the last week, SCM Leadership have been actively working to secure guidance from Dr. Mark Fox, Deputy Health Officer with the St. Joseph County Department of Health (SJCDH), on county-wide parameters that should be used to safely reopen St. Joseph County (SJC) schools. That guidance was released by the SJCDH at 11:00 AM this morning (7/29/2020) and can be viewed HERE.

Following the SJCDH guidelines, the SJCDH states “the strong recommendation for virtual learning or severely limited in-person instruction.” As a result, SCM will begin the school year on time in a virtual learning environment. Acknowledging these parameters reflect the regularly changing data of SJC, we cannot communicate a definitive length of time in which we will be delivering instruction virtually. However, we are planning for an initial six-week virtual learning period at this time.

As such, all SCM students will participate in a virtual learning environment beginning August 12, 2020 - September 18, 2020, at a minimum. We will continue to monitor SJC data closely and consult with the SJCDH to inform our next steps in early September 2020.

Although schools will remain closed to students for in-person learning through September 18, 2020, the SJCDH has “endorsed the continuation of athletics and extracurricular activities, to the extent that practice settings can accommodate physical distancing and universal masking when feasible, and employ small group or cohorted practices.” Additionally, SCM will continue providing meal services that include breakfast and lunch and a school-issued device to all K-12 students. More information will be provided soon.

This has been an incredibly challenging time for the entire community and we realize today’s announcement may create new and unforeseen complications for your family. We want to thank you for your patience and understanding as we continue to work through this time of uncertainty.

Sincerely,

Wayne Barker

Superintendent of Schools

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