Remote still an option as District sets final details for going back to school
By Jim Masters
LANSING, Ill. (March 24, 2021) – Lansing residents are used to hearing the phrase “back to school” in August. A global pandemic has altered the timing quite a bit. The new back to school date for some Lansing high schoolers is April 19.
That’s the day Thornton Fractional School District 215 will welcome back seniors, freshmen and students enrolled in the SOAR/SUCCESS/STRIVE programs to in-person learning. Sophomores and juniors can opt to return on Monday, April 26, the District 215 School Board announced March 23.
The masked-up, socially distanced board meeting, held in the TF South cafeteria, was the board’s first session open to the public in more than a year. Superintendent Dr. Sophia Jones-Redmond took the occasion to thank teachers, administrators, school staff, students and parents for their efforts during the period of remote learning, and for helping develop the back-to-the-classroom learning plan.
“I’m very confident in the plan we have,” Jones-Redmond said.
Remote still an option
However, students have the option of continuing remote learning. The district will still offer Zoom classes in real-time. Students in remote learning will receive a Google Chromebook laptop computer for use the remainder of the semester.
Students may switch to full remote learning status at any time, but once that selection is made it will remain in effect for the remainder of the semester. Students do not have the option of switching from remote to in-person learning. Prior to their return to classroom learning, District 215 will share its new safety plan with students and parents.
Back to school by last name
For students who choose in-person learning:
- Those with last names from A-L will physically attend class on Mondays and Tuesdays and pause on Wednesdays for Student Support Day. They will attend class remotely on Thursdays and Fridays.
- Those with last names from M-Z will attend class remotely on Mondays and Tuesdays and pause on Wednesdays for Student Support Day. They will physically attend class on Thursdays and Fridays.
Excitement and anticipation is building for when District 215 opens its doors to students again. There are also plenty of unknowns among students and teachers alike.
“I can’t figure out who misses whom more, the teachers or the students,” TF South Principal Jacob Gourley said. “There is a super-special energy in the air that’s been a long time coming. You’ve got a lot of kids that we have not seen in-person learning for more than a year now. For our freshmen, this will be the first time in their high school.”
As such, freshman orientation will be folded into classroom time. And like all returning students, they will be briefed ahead of time on various COVID-19 related safety protocols. District 215 is producing four short videos that students can watch so they understand what’s expected of them when they enter a school building.
Thanks to the first round of federal assistance money, District 215 has been able to upgrade its facilities for added safety. The grant allowed the district to purchase plexiglass shields for offices and personal protective equipment (PPEs), as well as make improvements to heating and ventilation units for better air flow.
A second round of federal stimulus money will primarily be used to address any gaps in learning over the past year. Gourley believes there will in fact be learning gaps among a number of the students.
“Our focus is on trying to build a very robust summer program,” he said. “It will be way more expensive than our typical summer school. We’re looking at enrichment types of camps.”
Gourley added that the district is developing a summer bridge program for incoming freshman in the fall.
“We know (current) eighth-graders have lost out on most of their in-person learning,” he said. “We want to see where they are at and get them back on track.”
Seeing silver linings, Gourley believes Zoom and other virtual technologies will continue to serve both educators and students long term. There is also a renewed focus on the mental health of students.
“We’re really encouraging our teachers to take the pulse of the kids to see how they’re doing socially and emotionally,” he said.
More key dates
- Spring break will be held April 2-9, with no classes held. School will resume on Monday, April 12.
- Graduation dates will be June 23 and 24. Caps and gowns will be available mid-May. Last day of school for seniors is May 12.
- Prom, for seniors only, will be held this year on a to-be-determined date. Juniors are planning an alternative to prom, most likely an outdoor, socially distanced event.
District 215 oversees four sites: TF South High School, TF North High School, the TF Center for Academics and Technology, and the TF Center for Alternative Learning.
- Voter Guide: April 6, 2021 – District 215 Board elections (March 6, 2021)