Minnesota E-12 school leaders will wrap up this school year unlike they have in the past. It will take planning and coordination and should also include celebration. MREA provides some considerations to assist in this year-end planning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This guide takes in account the recently updated guidance from the Minnesota Department of Education on school calendars and devices. View guidance from May 5.
In this guide, MREA shares:
- Keeping students engaged as close as possible to the last student day
- Collecting, cleaning, storing materials
- Celebrating and saying goodbye to students and staff
Other considerations as you wrap up the year include:
- Learning from this experience
- Doing it all with upmost respect and honoring feelings
- Maintaining relationships throughout the process
Keeping Students Engaged
MDE has made it clear with updated guidance on May 5 that school districts are strongly encouraged to continue instruction to the end of the established school calendar. “Executive Order 20-41 directs schools to continue distance learning through the end of the school year. Shortening the school year is not in the spirit of the order.” View details on page 6 of the guidance
Districts can do this by having teachers assign culminating activities or projects, including those do not need teacher instruction in skills or content. This fits the pattern of in-person schooling where generally teachers do not introduce new material the last two weeks of school.
Here are some considerations:
1. Distance Learning Reflection
These can be related to the students’ distance learning experience and not need external research. Their work products become artifacts for them as well. This is a great way for students to commemorate this time with their immediate and extended families.
- They can be interdisciplinary such as calling grandparents and interviewing them on similar times of national crisis and how this is same or different. Write it up. Directions for the write up can be more complex for students in high school than middle or upper elementary.
- They can write a summary of the math or science they learned this year and how that applies to their daily life with stay-at-home. Counting and observing, making projections, again directions growing in complexity for upper grade students.
- Lower elementary students can be recorded reading books including the title and author of books at home they like, and record saying their math facts.
- Students any age can be asked to write or draw the story of their stay-at-home and who they miss the most.
2. Pencil and Paper
Students can be directed do this work with paper and pencil. This way all students have access to the tools needed to do the culminating activity. It is also more clearly the student’s work. When you pick up materials, you can supply paper and pencils to those who do not have those tools in their homes. Or you can get creative and engage students in a collective art project (by grade, by school or for the district).
3. Limited Hours of Availability
Teachers can keep office hours for students to ask questions, but schools could choose to make these more limited to allow teachers to complete other necessary end of the year tasks.
4. Daily Attendance
Continue to take daily attendance by family. If teachers have been taking attendance switch this to staff, who for health reasons cannot participate in re-collecting materials, and have them make daily connections with families for all students in the family.
5. Returning Work Digitally
Schools could choose to allow students to return work digitally using a cell phone or another device, rather than a school issued device. Schools would need to assess access. These uploads could be sent to a teacher’s email, through an app (such as Seesaw) or via text to a common phone number. Examples of uploads could include:
- Photos of completed written work.
- Audio recordings of students reading. This will be key to assess students’ reading proficiency. There are apps for nearly every type of phone. Learn more about audio recording: For iPhones or Androids
- Video Since these are data hogs, and slow to upload without broadband their use should be limited.
6. Deadlines & Grading
It will be important to establish and communicate deadlines for work returned for grading purposes. School districts or schools should provide guidance for grading that is first communicated to staff and then shared with parents and guardians of students. MDE issued grading guidelines May 1 for reference by teachers and districts. View grading guidance.
Collecting Materials (and Celebrating)
To accommodate social distancing guidelines, the collection of materials likely will take a week (or more), not the usual one-day process. It also will take planning, just as sending materials home took planning.
MDE issued guidance strongly encouraging districts “to allow students who have access to district-provided technology (i.e. 1:1 devices and wireless hotspots) during distance learning to continue to have access to that technology during the summer months…. [especially when] these devices are the only device in the household available for the family to have access to the internet.” View guidance
Districts have responsibility to clean and maintain devices so they are ready for fall or summer school and will need to weigh MDE’s guidance accordingly.
Districts also need to collect textbooks and other materials normally turned in at the end of the year.
This year, this task falls into four steps (that may overlap):
- Prepare a schedule by bus route over several days. Calculate by the number of bus stops at 30 minutes minimum per stop how long this will take. It will be several days. Include students who normally do not ride a bus.
- Inform parents in advance with a reminder 24 hours before your arrival.
- Ask parents to place materials by student in boxes or bags and label with name and grade level.
- Set up the distribution center (to be used in Step 3).
- Procure and/or allocate safety materials (masks, gloves, hand sanitizer).
- Print FRE applications to distribute to families whose economic status has changed. Have instructions on where to mail it back or take a photo and email or text it back.
- Assign administrators to the phases of collecting materials.
- Recruit, assign and train staff.
Collect Materials by Bus (with Celebrations)
- This will also include celebrating and saying goodbye for the summer. Bring tissues. Make it fun.
- You likely will need to provide a range of time when you will arrive at each stop. You may want to call ahead to the next stop to let the family know your ETA, especially if you will be later than the initial time window you provided.
- Have teachers, paraprofessionals and other staff on the busses who can say goodbye and connect with families while maintaining social distancing. Rotate staff by day to spread out the load. This is going to be emotional.
–Teachers who have distributed materials to families during distance learning report these can be 30-90 minute conversations.
- Do this safely. Have families put boxes or bags of materials down and walk back, have staff pick them up with gloves and place on the bus. Have staff wear masks on the bus unless windows are open and practice social distancing.
- Have staff prompt the families regarding devices, textbooks for the grades, any library books or other school materials brought or sent home in March.
- Provide a copy of the FRE application. Encourage families fill out and either mail it or take photo of it and email or text it to the school.
- Clearly label each seat with which student and grade. Have extra boxes for families who are unprepared.
- Wait outside for unprepared families to collect materials. Have fun while you wait. Sing, dance and celebrate in whatever way your staff desires.
- Return the materials to a central location (See Step 3).
Manage Central Distribution Center(s)
Buses deliver the materials to a central distribution center (or multiple centers depending on the size of your district). This is where the materials can be sorted and redistributed to the respective teachers and staff.
- Think of a cafeteria or several adjacent classrooms close to an exit where busses can come or parents can drop off materials.
- This should be in a location separate from child care and have restricted access or screening for access.
- Have staff safely remove the materials from the incoming boxes and bags of materials and resort them by subject or grade level and teacher.
- Districts’ student information system should be loaded onto devices for staff to use in this resorting process.
- For safety staff should use gloves, in districts with community transmission, these materials should sit untouched for at least a day.
During this step in the process, teachers check in and store what they have received from students. The school’s technology team also checks in devices.
- This is the most similar to being in school.
- Determine how to transport the materials from the central location to the teachers’ rooms.
- The inventory lists teachers turn in will be even more important this year as there are sure to be more missing items or damaged items.
- This is not the year for book fines, so this will be a budget item for FY ‘21.
Celebrating and Saying Goodbye
This year more than ever, saying good-bye and celebrating, whether at the building or district level, is essential for students (their families) and school staff. Be intentional and spend time on this.
Much of the celebration and send-offs for students likely will happen during the material collection. Consider how you will celebrate each student – at each stop. Be coordinated and creative. The celebration does not need to begin or end there.
Consider other ways to recognize your students and give them an opportunity to say good-bye to their teachers, school staff and peers. Each teacher may have his or her own idea for how they want to honor this milestone with their students and commemorate this year. Encourage teachers to share their ideas with one another and consider how you can do some of them collectively as a school.
Think of all the ways that you bring students together to connect and celebrate at the end of the year. Now reimagine them. How can you achieve this connection virtually?
Here are some ideas to get started:
- Host special virtual meetings (or virtual parties) with this sole purpose (Think: Zoom, Google Hangouts)
- Have students create signs or messages for their class that you can share and possibly make into a montage (Think: Flipgrid, Google Classroom, Photos)
- Use your social media accounts to say thank you to your parents and encourage them to share their comments, memories, pictures. etc. This could be a way you bring your parent together to celebrate. (Think: Facebook)
Internally, focus on helping staff process emotions, share experiences and learn from one another. Schools likely will leverage technology to reflect, connect, celebrate and look forward.
Prompts to get staff to share, process emotions and learn from one another may include:
- What worked for you in distance learning?
- What didn’t work so well?
- How would you do distance learning differently next time?
- What was your biggest “ah-ha” in distance learning?
- What was your funniest or most awkward moment in distance learning?
- What did you miss most about in-person schooling?
- What practices in distance learning should we continue with in-person learning?
- How are you going to recharge yourself this June?
- What keeps you up at night?
- What are you most grateful for?
- Looking toward fall, what can the district provide your students this summer to better prepare them to resume learning and minimize the expected regression?
You also may want to consider surveying your parents to give them an opportunity to reflect and share both successes and opportunities. Be sure to share the successes with your school staff.
It will be important for staff to feel together in this goodbye. Honor their service and emotions. Be sure to have all staff go through a good-bye like this. Don’t forget bus drivers, cooks, custodians, secretaries, and education assistants, regardless of their role during the distance learning.
Provide what information the district has regarding summer nutrition in the district and summer school. Admit we do not know how school will reopen in the fall, but it will be done with students’, families’ and staff’s safety at the top of the planning priorities. To burning questions, if answers are not formulated, say that. We may not have answers now, but will work on them.
MREA developed a series of guides to help schools respond and plan for the spread of COVID-19:
- Distance Learning: Guide to Communicating with Families
- Distance Learning: Putting It All Together
- Steps to Respond & Communicate
- How to Plan for Distance Learning
Stay apprised of resources and news on COVID-19 for schools at: MREAvoice.org/covid19