Brownstown Central Middle School students and staff already have experienced a lot of changes this school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Monday, another change will start.
That morning, students will report to their tribe and be given a new schedule. Upon dismissal for their first locker visit of the day, they will report to the teacher’s classroom listed on their schedule for tribe. For some, that will be a new teacher. For others, their tribe teacher remains the same.
For the rest of the day, they will be with their grade-level class cohort and begin following their new schedule.
"Students are grouped as a grade-level class, although they would not have the same teacher all day," Principal Doug McClure said in a video posted on the school’s website explaining the new cohorts.
"They would move through their daily class schedule as a group. They would associate with the same peers all day in each of their classes," he said. "Students will still be moving from room to room, they will still have different teachers throughout the day each period, but they will be moving as an entire class."
The classmates they have in math, English, science social studies and electives will be the same. Their assigned seats will be next to the same students all day.
"Students will still have passing periods and scheduled locker visits," McClure said. "They won’t be expected to walk as a group from one class to another. They will simply be reporting to the same destination the following period."
The purpose of the change is to limit close contact in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus.
"It is our hope that by limiting the number of students’ social contacts that we would be able to limit the number of students needing to quarantine should a BCMS student contract the coronavirus," McClure said.
He said he is proud of students and staff for cooperating with the numerous procedural and enhanced safety measure changes thus far.
"We have observed a most unique solidarity from everyone in response to this most unique situation," he said. "It hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been fun. It hasn’t even been comfortable. Wearing masks gets old for everyone, but we have persisted with a positive and supportive attitude and with the understanding that we take these precautions for the health and safety of others in addition to ourselves."
Switching to cohorts is the next change. That was unanimously approved by the corporation’s board of trustees during a meeting Tuesday night.
"We have been asked to now go even further if possible to protect ourselves and one another as we continue in the goal to keep students and staff healthy and safe, keep the doors open and do all that we can to keep the virus from coming home to you," McClure said in the video. "Because of this success, I’m confident we are ready to take an additional step."
McClure said the academic work and grades earned by students in the first three weeks of school still count in the new class schedule.
"They haven’t lost any grade points that they have earned," he said. "Everything continues, everything counts, our students count and that is the whole point for taking additional health and safety precautions with this change."
Rebooting with a completely different master schedule just weeks into the new school year hasn’t been attempted before, but McClure said just like the other unprecedented things associated with COVID-19, he believes any "pain in the change" will ultimately result in everyone’s long-term benefit.
"Please know that I could not have asked our students, teachers and parents for a better start to the year," he said. "That is why when I was asked, ‘Can this be done?’ my response was, ‘With our BCMS students, absolutely.’"
Another change recently enacted at BCMS is allowing students to carry backpacks. That will continue with the cohorts.
McClure said scheduled locker visits were purposefully enacted as a social distancing precaution, but staff members noticed students had to carry more materials, including their books, supplies and Chromebooks, from class to class.
"You could almost hear a collective cheer when I got on the PA and announced that you could start using your backpack, and the kids have used them very responsibly, and it has really helped," he said. "Before, we were seeing books dropped almost every passing period, but now, everybody has got things in their backpacks, and it’s going really, really well."
Also during Tuesday’s meeting, Brownstown Central High School Principal Joe Sheffer updated the board on the start of the school year.
He said the school is socially distanced in 128 of 130 classes, and lunch periods allow for social distancing by moving 103 desks into the cafeteria and 12 tables into the gymnasium area.
A group of staff members recently met to discuss an alternative schedule for the second trimester, which starts Nov. 9.
Sheffer said 142 students are learning virtually through Edmentum, and if they all return to in-person instruction for the second semester, they will not be able to be socially distanced. They have until two weeks before the start of the second trimester to decide if they want to return to school or keep doing virtual learning at home.
Sheffer also said teams and clubs will not be allowed to conduct fundraising dinners on the nights of basketball games in the cafeteria this winter.
"We don’t want outsiders using our cafeteria or kitchen, and technically, we have 100 student desks in our cafeteria, so you would only be allowed to sell 50 tickets," he said.
Sheffer emailed the coaches and advisers to let them know they can instead do drive-thru dinners at different times.
"They are just not going to do them this year during or after ballgames because of limited tickets and everything else, and most everybody understood that," he said.
Brownstown Elementary School students also have online learning as an option, and Principal Chrystal Street said it continues to be a work in progress.
"Teachers have been overwhelmed and frustrated with trying to manage kids at school and those online, but they are doing their best so that they can make school a valuable learning experience whether students are here at school or at home," she said.
After watching a webinar led by Kristina Smekens with Smekens Education, Street said she decided to call the online school eSchool.
"(Smekens) said we need to call it that because kids need to be at school," Street said. "eLearning was just a temporary thing for a couple of days, it turned into a couple of months (in the spring), but if we say eSchool, maybe we’ll have more buy-in from the kids because they need to be present, attentive, ready to go, so we’re hoping that will help them."
While some students and their parents or guardians have struggled with learning from home and had to receive help from teachers, Street said many kids are "knocking it out of the park and have done really well."
Students at school are in pods for two weeks at a time, and Street said that has worked very well.
"Teachers keep track … so if we need to contact trace, we can go back," she said.
Street said she and new Assistant Principal Marty Young continue to reevaluate and tweak things to help students and staff.
"Overall, we are overjoyed that- we have the kids back in the classroom," Street said. "It has been challenging. You can sense some of the tension in the building at times, but teachers and students are making the best of it. I applaud everyone for their hard work and determination to make things as normal as can be in times like these. It’s just really good to have the kids here."