CORONAVIRUS

This Iowa school's unique return-to-learn plan keeps students in cohorts of 13 or fewer

School keeping students in a homeroom while they learn online, teachers teach virtually

Plexiglass dividers are stationed on the lunch tables that elementary students will use at Central City's school on Thur
Plexiglass dividers are stationed on the lunch tables that elementary students will use at Central City’s school on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CENTRAL CITY — The Central City Community School District is taking a unique approach to bringing students back on campus in a pandemic for their first day of school on Aug. 31.

Instead of rotating classes or teachers, middle and high school students at Central City will stay in their homerooms all day in cohorts of about dozen students and take classes online.

This unique return to learn model meets Gov. Kim Reynold’s requirement of 50 percent on-site instruction while keeping cohorts together with the same 13 people every day. Masks are required in classrooms.

“Your first class might be opening up your laptop while your teacher teaches three doors down the hallway,” Superintendent Tim Cronin said.

Teachers such as Cindy McCarthy, a business and computer technology teacher, may be teaching while students in her homeroom are taking online courses in math, science, language arts or history.

“If I am talking and another kid in my homeroom is in a math class, hopefully they can block me out and be able to listen to their teacher,” McCarthy said.

Central City, which has about 440 students, has been one-to-one with technology for over a decade. Students are well-versed with doing class work online, Cronin said. The district’s back-to-school shopping list asked students to bring headphones with them to use in the classroom during their online classes.

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“Headphones are going to be vital for kids, and it’s going to be a little confusing at first,” McCarthy said.

Teachers and students, especially at the middle and high school level, are not used to being in a classroom together for an entire school day, Cronin said.

To make the transition a little easier, students were asked to list three of their peers who would be their “best educational support system,” said high school Principal Jason McLaughlin, who was integral in helping create the district’s return to learn plan.

The district made sure at least one of the students they listed will be in the homeroom with them, he said.

Teachers are also working to incorporate breaks into the school day for themselves and the students. This could include taking a five-minute walk outside to get some fresh air or stretching at their desks.

Modifications for elementary school students returning to on-site classes are minimal since elementary students don’t switch classes routinely during the day. Elementary class sizes range from 13 to 20 students.

Teachers of music, art and physical education will see students for a month in a row before switching to a different cohort.

About 14 elementary students chose the virtual-only learning option, which is being offered through Edmentum, an online learning program.

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About 25 middle and high school students have chosen to learn from home, and since students on-site are already learning online, the district did not need to create a separate at-home curriculum.

Teachers, while still apprehensive about returning to the classroom during the coronavirus, are feeling positive about the district’s plan.

“When I heard we were going to do something like this rather than seeing a bunch of students every day, it definitely made me feel a lot better,” McCarthy said.

Seventh and eighth grade language arts teacher Lindsay Lentz feels like the district came up with the safest on-site plan possible.

“I’m really excited and proud of our administration and staff and the community that came behind us,” she said.

“If we have to go back, which we do, we have the safest plan possible.”

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

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