In 2015, STEM was the only school in Colorado to offer a virtual day instead of posting late start times for marginal weather days. It was bold and novel. Looking back, the years of experience gave STEM an edge on how to provide virtual instruction when the whole world closed down without warning in March of 2020. Virtual learning was a familiar practice for STEM staff, students and families. Schools fumbled while STEM had reasonable confidence that skills and knowledge were practiced and ready for the new demands of daily virtual delivery.
I remember the discussion at the STEM board in 2015. Some speculated it would take over a year to plan and implement. Teachers loved the idea immediately and embraced the concept. Departments and grade levels worked through the issues and it was ready to roll on the next DCSD declared late start day. It became a trademark STEM practice. For years, over 100 DCSD district and charter schools posted their late start times. For STEM, it just stated, “Virtual Day.” We thought it anachronistic that TV stations only allowed for closed, open or late start. Virtual Days kept everyone learning while safe from treacherous roads, low attendance, sub-issues, attenuated class periods, and the feeling of a “throwaway” instructional day. Now virtual is shared practice throughout the world.
Our teachers took it one step further during the 2020-21 school year by teaching both in-person and virtual simultaneously for each class to help us manage the COVID-19 impact on students’ learning. While what our teachers were able to do last year out-matched that of any other school, it was a big stressor and was something that teachers on numerous occasions shared was unsustainable in the long term.
Our Leadership Team took that feedback and made a commitment to not ask our teachers to teach simultaneously in-person and virtual learners this year. What does that mean for our students and families? The flexibility and seamlessness that we had last year of moving from in-person to virtual learning is not the same.
What are we doing to help our students and our teachers? Our Teacher Support Team and our Building Directors are working on collaborating with our teachers to support them in their classrooms so that they can assist students who have been impacted by the recent COVID quarantines. STEM has three dedicated virtual-only teachers for the families that selected this preference for the semester.
TriCounty Health Department had an emergency meeting giving three large counties one day to prepare for the new mask mandate. September 1 was declared that all over the age of 2 years must wear a mask. STEM’s approach is always, “We’ve got this!” Staff and students roll with change. September 1 was a normal school day with all of us wearing masks.
STEM’s unifying goal this year is to offer in-person learning K-12. Masks are a small concession for the greater goal of continuing to build connections and relationships as content and skills are mastered each day. Masks were required all of last year so the new requirement is familiar. STEM was extraordinarily successful last year at containing all COVID cases and never had an outbreak until the last two weeks of school. Whatever your beliefs and evidence regarding the effectiveness of mask-wearing, it worked for STEM as measured by COVID and flu containment.
Thank you for the solidarity our community has developed to protect those who are unified in their dedication to students. Unproductive behavior of a few outliers are quickly and effectively disempowered when the focus remains on the mission to serve all students. It is gratifying to share the common purpose across so many diverse perspectives and families. We have a powerful story of unity. Others are watching with awe and disbelief how STEM navigates challenges with ease and continues to keep the focus on student achievement.
We are truly #STEMStrongerTogether.
Enjoy your Labor Day weekend,
P.J. Eucker PhD