This week we celebrated our 350 teachers and school nurses in Yelm Community Schools. That celebration has taken on a much different meaning since schools were closed on March 13. We are so proud of our teachers and nurses for their remarkable efforts to support 5,800 students and families in a distance learning model.
All our staff committed these past weeks to rebuilding learning connections through multiple platforms including online tools, email, phone and even some paper packet delivery. Like everyone in our community, this transformation has put tremendous pressure on our comfortable, reliable and in-person systems. In a short period of time, our teaching staff has built new skills in distance learning strategies but has never lost its focus on the need to maintain personal connections with students and their families. Teaching this way is not preferred, but I have been amazed at the commitment to move learning forward and to connect differently with students to support their needs.
I am happy to report some significant successes in our efforts.
• During conference week, and with significant follow-up, our staff personally connected with 98 percent of our students.
• In the first three weeks of continued learning after spring break, we have consistently connected with 85 to 90 percent of the students to their daily lessons. Each day that percentage grows. We do need all students to engage in learning with us every day.
• Teachers and staff have worked really hard, listening to students and parents, to adjust daily and weekly learning requirements. We are seeking that “just right” level of rigor without overwhelming students.
• We have focused deeply on social-emotional learning strategies. We are acutely aware of the stresses families are facing right now. It isn’t just about assignments, tests, grades and transcripts. Our teachers and support staff have been really creative in finding ways to connect with students to learn what they need from school right now.
• Our students have checked out 3,100 Chromebooks from their schools to access their daily lessons. More than 80 percent of our students are connecting online or via email.
• Nearly all of our seniors (we love you Class of 2020) picked up their graduation caps, gowns and yard signs April 24. We continue to plan what typical senior activities and graduation will look like right now.
No, this isn’t how we would choose to run schools, nor has it been perfect. Our staff, however, has done heroic work in trying to get better each day and to serve students and families as best we can.
I want to thank the Yelm community for staying connected with us. Thank you also to our teachers and nurses, and all of our staff, for the rapid transition to a different version of school. We can’t wait to get back into our classrooms and work, in person, with kids.
Brian Wharton is superintendent of Yelm Community Schools.