CORONAVIRUS

In pandemic, Central City school bus driver also delivers meals to students learning at home

District will continue remote learning through Dec. 11

Vaughn McClelland helps bag lunches Wednesday at the Central City Community School cafeteria for delivery to students. T
Vaughn McClelland helps bag lunches Wednesday at the Central City Community School cafeteria for delivery to students. The Central City district switched to temporary virtual instruction this week to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, and McClelland and other staff members are delivering lunches to students. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CENTRAL CITY — With the Central City Community School District switching to remote virtual instruction for now as it monitors the spread of coronavirus, school bus driver Vaughn McClelland is taking on duties beyond being behind the wheel.

McClelland, 73, of Coggon, is making and delivering lunches to students this week as the district began virtual learning after the Thanksgiving break to monitor an expected increase in local COVID-19 cases.

A bus driver for 10 years, McClelland is volunteering this year to take on the extra responsibilities of cook, paraeducator and lunch room monitor as the district copes with staffing shortages in the pandemic.

“You couldn’t ask for a better job,” he said. “I’m like a grandfather to a lot of these kids. I watched them grow up.”

Despite COVID-19, McClelland didn’t hesitate to return as a bus driver this year. His doctor told him that “I’m probably the healthiest 73-year-old around,” he said. “I really didn’t give it much thought.”

Students on his bus, from preschool through high school, wear masks and he said the school has done a great job of taking precautions

The district’s return-to-learn plan had middle and high school students in small cohorts who stay in their homeroom all day instead of switching between classes. Teachers provided instruction virtually.

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High School Principal Jason McLaughlin said that while the district still struggles with shortages of substitute teachers, bus drivers and cooks, people like McClellan “make all the difference in the world.”

“It shows we’re here for each other. People doing jobs that aren’t theirs and being willing creates a sense of camaraderie,” McLaughlin said. “I see this as a huge opportunity to prove we care about each other.”

District goes all virtual for two weeks after Thanksgiving

This week, the district decided against any in-person classes and switched to all online learning after alerting the Iowa Department of Education, Superintendent Tim Cronin said.

“If we’re going to see an uptick in cases, we didn’t want to be in school for that,” he said.

Wednesday evening, the district informed parents the virtual instruction would continue next week as well, to Dec. 11.

Elementary students, who have only one teacher, this week are experiencing virtual learning for the first time. Cronin said teachers have worked with students to know how to log on to the classroom and complete assignments online.

The district’s absence rate for students sick or out on quarantine has fluctuated between 12 and 16 percent throughout the semester. Just considering students out sick, the absence rate has been 4 to 6 percent.

Like most every district in the area, Central City has struggled with staff absences.

“We’ve had some staff who have gone above and beyond to help us stay open,” Cronin said. “It’s humbling to work with people who are super dedicated, who will help in food service or as a para even though it’s not their job.”

The district has had to close two classrooms for a few days each if it was unable to find a substitute, Cronin said.

During that time, students in those classes remained home in virtual learning.

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“If it’s shut down a classroom versus the district, that’s what we’re going to do,” he said.

‘Fun Fridays’ and other ways to help students

When students are in school in-person, the homeroom model for middle- and high-school students is different for students and teachers used to switching classes every hour.

To keep spirits up, high school Principal McLaughlin introduced “Fun Fridays.” Every Friday, homerooms compete against each other in different challenges or activities.

One Friday, they mimicked the reality TV show “Chopped,” where three mystery ingredients must be included in a recipe. Judges were chosen to sample the students’ no-bake recipes, and the results were livestreamed to each classroom.

The district also implemented a “D and F day” for two days at the end of October where students struggling in classes were required to attend school and get focused help. Students with C’s and above got to take two days off school.

McLaughlin hopes this is something the district can continue after the coronavirus is over.

“That’s something you would never do during a regular year, but in the world of virtual learning we identified it as a problem and offered flexibility and got good results,” Cronin said.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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