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Crookston Public Schools first week in the books

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    The Times checked in with the principals of the three Crookston Public School buildings to see how the first few days of a most unusual school year have gone, and if the comments from CHS Principal Eric Bubna, Highland School Principal Chris Trostad and Washington School Principal Denice Oliver could be summed up in three words, they might be “better than expected.”

    The Times focused on a few topics in reaching out to the principals, including social distancing, mask-wearing, technology/temperature checks at school entrances, unexpected and/or pleasant surprises, staff feedback, and, in the high school’s case, the “hybrid” learning model featuring students attending in-person on alternating “Blue” and “Gold” days.

    “The first week went very well; we had a few issues to work through, but overall it was smoother than I was expecting,” Bubna said. “The staff has put in countless hours and I’m grateful to be working with such an awesome team. How well the week went is a credit to their hard work.”

    Trostad said his staff is “completely exhausted” by the “incredible amount of work” needed to prepare for face-to-face learners concurrently with students whose families have opted for distance learning instead. “There is just so much extra with logistics to plan for,” he added.

    With a school home to first-graders through sixth-graders, maintaining proper social-distancing can be a challenge for kids that age to comply with, but Trostad said the students are doing their best. “It’s not too bad, considering this is all new to kids,” he said, adding that the social-distancing dots stuck to the floor are a big help when the students are lining up for lunch and classroom bathroom breaks.

    Oliver also noted the social-distancing dots and directional arrows as being especially valuable in keeping the school district’s youngest students moving in the right direction and with proper spacing.

    At Washington, she explained, it’s all about reducing the number of “transitions” and the time preschoolers and kindergartners spend “transitioning” from one area or activity to another. For instance, breakfast has been moved from the cafeteria to the classroom to reduce congestion in the cafeteria, so once students get their temperature checked upon entering the building, they go straight to their classroom to eat breakfast.

    “It’s been a wonderful surprise, what a calming effect that change has had; it’s just a great way for the kids to start the day,” Oliver noted.

    The calming effect has extended to lunchtime in the cafeteria, she continued, where the children don’t have to stand in lines waiting to get their lunch, but instead sit three at a table at the 13 tables in the cafeteria and have their lunch brought to them.

    “Call it an unintended positive, but this new lunchtime situation has, again, had a tremendous calming effect,” Oliver explained. “You see three little people sitting at a table and their lunch is served to them and they’re just chatting, almost like they’re in a restaurant. It’s really something to see.”

    Three and four-year-old preschools had their first day of school on Sept. 14, so Oliver said that slowed down the temperature check lines at the school entrance a bit, and there’s always a bit of emotional involved when children are separated from mom or dad for the first time. But Oliver said perhaps the biggest challenge will be the fact that preschool kids aren’t required to wear masks, while kindergartners are. Although they are on opposite ends of the building, Oliver said it’s unavoidable that kindergartners wearing masks will see preschoolers not wearing masks. To head off any potential issues, she said she visited the kindergarten classrooms last Friday to alert the “big, responsible” kindergartners that they might see younger kids without masks, but that they’ll need to keep theirs on.

    As for Highland and masks, Trostad said he only had to talk to two students the first week about the requirement to wear a mask. “The kids are doing the best they can,” he said. “Again, this is all new to them so this is a new normal that will take a while to get used to.”

    Bubna echoed Trostad, saying that at CHS so far only a couple students have needed a mask-wearing reminder. “Everyone has followed the guidance and we’ve not had any problems,” he said.

    As for the temperature checks, Trostad said it was a bit chilly on a couple mornings the first week, and it led to some error messages on the digital thermometers. So staff learned to keep the thermometers warm and they also added staff inside to conduct temp checks. To his knowledge, no Highland student the first week showed up with a temperature that required isolation. Trostad credited parents for doing a good job assessing their kids’ health in the mornings, and also new student nurse Stacey Grunewald for following up with families of students who have missed school.

    Oliver noted that a temperature scanner is awaiting installation at Washington and it will soon be up and running. For now, staff are doing individual temp checks. When the scanner is in place, she explained, one student at a time will approach it and they’ll be able to see themselves in the scanner. After a couple seconds, they’ll be given a green “go” light or a red light indicating they need further screening.

    Asked if there have been any pleasant surprises, Trostad didn’t hesitate in noting the decreased traffic congestion with buses and parents dropping off students in front of Highland each morning. The vehicle, bus and student traffic flow in the mornings is the best he’s seen in seven years, he noted.

    The pleasant surprises don’t end there, Trostad added.

    “It’s kind of funny how COVID has actually improved things, such as all students getting 30 minutes for lunch, teachers taking their classes out for recess, students going directly into the classroom at 7:50 a.m., students getting two bathroom/wash hands breaks each day as a class, and smaller lunch groups with fifth and sixth grades eating in their classrooms,” he explained.

    Presiding over the only school with a hybrid learning model, Bubna said online student attendance has been strong so far. He saw right away that staff were happy to have students back in the building. “But this is a lot of work and it’s going to take some getting used to,” he said. “We have a long way to go, but the start was excellent.”