Do Something Good Club at ACVSD.
Miss McCord's 3rd grade class
- pizza math.
By Selina Pedi
Since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, the administration of A-C Valley School District has had one primary goal in mind: ensure the safety and security of students and staff while maintaining an effective learning environment. When in-person instruction was shut down on March 13th of last year, the school district’s Health and Safety Committee – comprised of a mix of teachers, parents, administrators, and school board members – immediately set to work to determine how best to comply with Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Education (DOE) guidelines, including the development of a pandemic Health and Safety Plan. By July 1st, A-C Valley’s Health and Safety Plan was approved and the school was cleared for reopening for the 20/21 school year.
The Plan, which continues to evolve and is currently on Version 6, allowed for three initial options for A-C Valley students: in-person instruction in compliance with all DOH requirements, such as social distancing, face masks, and increased sanitation; a distance model where students received the same lesson plans at home as were being taught in class, with personalized instruction from their regular teachers; and lastly, a standalone, fully remote A-C Valley Cyber program that has been in place since 2008. After the first month or so of the school year, the school board made the decision to discontinue the in-house distance option, and students and families were able to choose between fully in-person or fully online instruction.
Although the in-house distance platform proved the least effective of the three original options, it did provide a valuable stepping-stone to an interim measure that was recently put into play – Flexible Instructional Days. Superintendent David McDeavitt applied for approval from the DOE for Flexible Instructional Days over the summer, largely due to the experience of being forced to close the school for an extended time because of local water quality issues. With the likelihood of pandemic-related closures, along with the possibility of other infrastructure failures or natural disasters, he prioritized the ability to quickly transition to remote learning when needed.
Everyone within the school has been issued a Chromebook and has had practice with remote learning procedures throughout the year, so when a winter storm event iced up roads and equipment on January 26th, they were ready. “It worked fantastically,” enthused Dr. McDeavitt. “Our staff was able to easily transition from face-to-face to remote learning. . . and it went off without a hitch.” When asked if this meant that Snow Days would be a thing of the past, he acknowledged that a bit of break from time to time, especially after a perfect snowstorm, is definitely welcome and appreciated. Thankfully, the school district has flexibility in when it chooses to use its allotment of Flexible Instructional Days, allowing for the occasional break while keeping the number of make-up days needed at the end of the year to a minimum.
The district was also able to flex their longer-term remote skills when a COVID outbreak required the extended closure of the school on November 6th. “One case turned into over ten before you knew it. We had 80-some people quarantined. So, we had to close it down,” explained Dr. McDeavitt. The school board voted to resume in-person instruction on January 11th, but during the closure teachers and students made full use of the planning and technology in place, logging on and staying up to date with their lessons. Distance learning is not intended to completely replace in-person learning at A-C Valley, as the social aspect of the school experience is very important to everyone at the district, but it does provide a valuable option in times of storms or public health emergencies.
While students are in the school, the district takes health and safety very seriously, and the school is 100% in compliance with all DOH and DOE regulations. The district has a strict face covering requirement and has purchased 5000 face masks and 150 face shields to provide to students, staff, and visitors. Federal funding through the CARES act has allowed the district to hire on additional custodial staff, purchase additional sanitation and ventilation supplies, and update technology. Access to outside activities and fresh air is also a key component of the school’s approach, which has been developed with advice from Butler Health System. Parents are encouraged to send plenty of warm clothing for the winter months, and to drive their children to and from school whenever possible. “The community has really supported the school district,” said Dr. McDeavitt, adding, “I can’t thank them enough.” He also noted that the school board has been very involved and adaptable during this tumultuous time, and he lauded the teaching staff for their resilience, flexibility, and creativity.
The district knows, though, that things are not all rosy for everyone. While technology has been provided to students, the school is aware that some families do not have adequate access to reliable internet service, and some struggle to provide sufficient at-home support during distance learning. Dr. McDeavitt is committed to advocating for improved local broadband coverage and supporting the entire community through this and future challenges.
The recent award of a $700,000 federal grant, to be used over the next two years, will help the district update its technology and equipment and continue to adapt and improve its programs and procedures, keeping students and teachers connected, no matter what the future brings.