At the Belle Plaine School Board meeting on Monday, Dec. 21, Superintendent Ryan Laager discussed the plan for returning students to in-person learning.
Returning to In-Person Classes
The current plan is for all Chatfield Elementary students to return to the classroom on Monday, January 18.
Most Oak Crest students will return to school on the same day, with the exception of sixth graders.
Dr. Laager said state regulations advise schools to bring back no more than three grade levels to a building at a time. If more than three grade levels learn in the same building, the additional classes must wait two weeks before they can resume in-person lessons. That is why Oak Crest sixth graders are scheduled to start their in-person classes on Monday, Feb. 1.
When students return, they will still have to wear masks, but there will no longer be a six foot social distancing requirement for kids in the classroom. Kids will also be able travel to other parts of the school for some activities like art and lunch, instead of staying in one space the entire day.
Families can still choose to do full-time distance learning if they prefer.
There will be some changes in place for school staff as well. Employees will be required to wear both a face mask and a face shield. Additional supplies will be provided by the government. Staff will also have the option to take a COVID-19 test every other week, though this will not be required.
Belle Plaine Junior and Senior High School students are expected to return to their hybrid model on Jan. 18
Distance Learning Survey Results
Two weeks after distance learning began this year, the superintendent sent a survey out to parents to get a sense of whether or not the curriculum is working for families. About 600 people responded.
He said when asked if distance learning is going well, 76 percent of people said they agreed or strongly agreed.
When asked if there is an appropriate balance between the synchronous and asynchronous components of the lesson plan, 83.9 percent of people said they agreed or strongly agreed.
When asked if students had access to a teacher when needed, 92.5 percent of people said they agreed or strongly agreed.
“That’s just really a credit to our teachers,” said Dr. Laager. “I don’t think I ever thought it could be that positive.”
While Dr. Laager noted that the school staff is doing a phenomenal job with the hand they’ve been dealt, he said he still has serious concerns about the long-term effects of distance learning. The board members echoed worries about the lack of social and emotional learning for students and concern that the already existing achievement gap would grow even wider.
FFA Farm Presentation
Belle Plaine High School’s FFA Advisor Bruce Mathiowetz gave a presentation to the board about the hands-on farming program implemented this year. Students in the FFA program planted corn and wheat on nearly 70 acres of land near Oak Crest Elementary School this summer.
Mathiowetz said students worked on planting, budgeting, soil testing, and combining.
In total, the corn and wheat produced on the farm generated more than $19,000. The funds will go towards paying off the land’s property taxes this year. Any extra revenue will remain in a fund dedicated specifically to this project.
Mathiowetz shared that this amount of revenue would not have been possible without the generous donations of time and supplies from local businesses. He said without donations, the corn fields would have lost $500, and the wheat fields would have lost $5,900.
He is already working with students to develop plans for improvements in 2021. Students are interested in planting one or two acres of popcorn and selling it at the school store or concession stands. Mathiowetz is also working to get two to five acres of Kernza seeds, a perennial wheat grass that is supposed to improve the water quality. He said Kernza has a lower yield but higher value.
The school board will meet next for an organizational meeting on Monday, Jan. 4, and then the regular board meeting on Monday, Jan. 25