By Crystal Hayduk
Coping with life during a global pandemic leads to some degree of frustration and anxiety for everyone.
Pastor Josh Kuck of Main Street Church hopes to bring love and understanding to the community during a difficult time through a series of Facebook Live discussions with key individuals.
The virtual events happen at 7 p.m. each Tuesday on the church’s Facebook page.
Kuck said the church has been hosting the informational series since mid-March. The first several guests were physicians, but due to rapid changes in COVID-19 knowledge and response, the earlier videos have been removed from the page.
With a goal to “bridge the link between information and understanding,” Julie Helber, superintendent of Chelsea School District, was Kuck’s guest on April 21.
Helber reviewed the district’s course of action since March 13, the district’s last day of school. Since students had only half a day of school, staff spent the rest of the day getting resources ready, adding a COVID-19 link to the district’s website, and planning for ongoing communication with families.
With the understanding that some students had a greater need than only academic learning, the first emphasis was planning how to get food to families in need. Large grocery bags with a week’s worth of breakfasts and lunches for each student per family in need are distributed on Mondays from 10-noon at Chelsea High School.
“I’m proud of the people in our district coming together to work to make that happen for our community,” said Helber.
To facilitate learning and because every student has a school iPad, staff worked to ready and deploy 1,000 iPads to students in Young 5s through fifth grade by the end of the second week the buildings were closed. (Students in grades 6-12 already take their devices home.)
To improve equity for students who do not have broadband internet access at home, the technology team installed wireless hot spots on all four school buildings by March 23. By April 13, the district had obtained four more jetpacks and placed them on buses in four locations around the district known for having poor internet connectivity. (Link to maps here.)
Despite the hot spot availability, Helber said there are still students who cannot access internet at all. Transportation department staff began weekly delivery of paper packets to those students on April 20.
There are still uncertainties about when and how the Class of 2020 will experience commencement. Helber said the district is still hoping graduation can occur on May 31, but alternate dates in June and July are also pending. “By then, if it’s not possible, we’ll be thinking creatively,” she said. “They deserve to be honored and we will honor them.”
Kuck said that families may wonder how difficult it can be for the district to “just send stuff home; let’s just make education work. But there are so many layers and wrinkles. You’ve got connectivity issues, students with special needs, different home situations … That’s a huge amount.”
“Everybody has a different circumstance,” Helber said in agreement. “Our job is to make sure we understand those circumstances and try to make sure we eliminate the barriers that might prevent somebody from learning.”
Teachers are trying to find the right balance to help students learn and engage academically, as well as ease their anxieties and fears about the future. During the pandemic, there are “… traumatic feelings underlying moving forward from this,” said Helber. Therefore, teachers are focusing on the social and emotional needs of students.
Helber said it should be recognized that teachers are also coping with their own unique circumstances, such as raising children or caring for elderly parents. “Being able to deliver seven hours of instruction and having kids engage in it for seven hours a day is pretty unreasonable,” she said.
Kuck thanked Helber for helping the community to understand the complexity of the work the school district does, especially during this crisis.
Helber said the sudden closure of the buildings has been difficult for students and teachers alike. “We got into this profession because we love children and we miss them. We want to see our kids and we want to make sure that we’re meeting all of their needs.”
If anyone in the community is in need or could use some encouragement, they can contact Pastor Kuck and Main Street Church by email at [email protected].
“I can’t make any promises that we can directly help every person, but if we can’t, at least we can try to connect people with resources,” he said.
For more information: The district’s COVID-19 information page is here.
Main Street Church’s Facebook Live video page is here.