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St. Mary of DeKalb set to resume full-day schedule due to families' desire for in-person learning

DeKALB – A big fear many have on a return to school in the fall is the ability for young children to consistently wear a mask.

St. Mary School in DeKalb has a re-entry plan focused on safely minimize mask time as much as possible by a number of means, mostly utilizing outside spaces around the school.

“We have a lot of grassy lands around us on the property,” Principal Ashley Davis said. “We are planning on putting up some tents around the property for students and teachers to go out and have breaks from wearing masks and do outdoor teaching as much as possible. We can socially distance outside and not have to wear a mask.”

St. Mary is set to open with full, in-person school starting August 19 with an 11-page re-entry plan in place.

The school is accepting notes from doctor’s exempting students from wearing masks for medical reasons. The school will also provide face shields for all students and staff.

According to the plan, face coverings do not need to be worn outside if social distancing is maintained, and masks will be removed during eating, again with social distancing being maintained.

To help ensure distancing in hallways, the school has implemented what they are calling cohort groups. Based on the homeroom of a student, subject-specific teachers will move from classroom to classroom. Special education teachers will also visit the main classrooms.

Davis said the cohort groups are one thing she’s really proud of in the plan.

“That has allowed for us to keep students together and not be in the halls and that kind of thing,” Davis said.

According to the plan, the school chapel or the computer lab will be available for students to “de-stress” if he or she is overwhelmed with the new rules.

Lunches will be either in the homeroom class or outside if weather permits. School Mass will be open only to students and faculty this year.

Davis said the in-person factor is a big draw with families of the K-8 school. Of an expected student body of 175 this year, she said just four families have opted for remote learning.

“Families are choosing to stay because they want the instruction in-person,” Davis said. “We’ve had some families with health concerns so they’re doing an e-learning platform, so we’ve got some of that going on. It’s a small handful compared to what the other public schools have to deal with.”

Davis said there is a plan to switch over to remote learning should the situation dictate.

“If cases do rise we will go full remote learning,” Davis said. “There hasn’t been clear guidance yet from the [Illinois Department of Public Health] on how many cases would need to close the school down.”

While teachers have been the driving force at other districts pushing for the move to remote, Davis said the staff at St. Mary has been supportive of the plan.

“Teacher response has been pretty positive,” Davis said. “They’ve been concerned about how best to handle the plan and what it’s going to look like, questions on instruction during this time.”

Even with being in-person this year, Davis said things will still be an adjustment.

“It changes the way you deliver information,” Davis said. “So we’re focused more on quality, not quantity. You can’t do all your close group work, and group presentations and stuff. You can still do that but technology is more involved and you have to be more open to the new way.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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