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A Snapshot of a Day in the Muscatine Community School District – Tuesday, April 14, 2020

A Snapshot of a Day in the Muscatine Community School District
Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Schools are much more than a place students go for learning. During a normal day for many families, schools represent a reliable source of nutrition, a source of mental health services, and many other connections beyond learning–all to meet the basic needs of students in order for learning to take place. Throw in a pandemic and schools must come up with a whole new way of doing business to meet the needs of its students and the families it serves. Muscatine School District staff have gone above and beyond to meet this challenge in true Muskie Spirit and with Muskie Pride. Let’s take a look at a snapshot of one day in the MCSD. 

FOOD DISTRIBUTION

With the school closure due to COVID-19, many of our Muskie families have a higher need for food assistance for their families as many have lost jobs or have entered the world of unemployment. On Tuesday, April 14, 2020, 1,600 meals were provided to Muskie students and families through the breakfast/lunch meal sites and the Riverbend Mobile Food Pantry. 

The Muscatine Community School District’s food service program provides breakfasts and lunches to children 18 years of age or younger at several school buildings and off-site locations Monday – Thursday with Friday’s meals included in Thursday’s meal sacks. Bags of Blessings for elementary students who qualify provide a backpack of food items for the weekend on Thursdays. Muskie Locker is also providing something similar for middle and high school students who are food insecure. Overall, since the closure started, 21,400 breakfasts and lunches (combined) have been handed out to MCSD families.

The Riverbend Mobile Food Pantry provided over 330 families with two week’s worth of food on Tuesday evening and will be available again on Tuesday, April 28. Three hundred-plus cars lined Mulberry Avenue with three rows of traffic in the parking area at the Muscatine School’s administration building where boxed food was put in vehicle’s trunks in a drive-through type service. Volunteers boxed food, and the Muscatine Police Department provided traffic control. This program would not be possible without the support of the Riverbend Mobile Food Pantry, our volunteers, and the Muscatine Police Department.

CONTINUOUS LEARNING

On April 2, Governor Kim Reynolds tasked Iowa schools to choose one of three models of continuous learning during the COVID-19 closure for Iowa students. Muscatine School District’s teachers, administrators, and tech staff embraced the development of its continuous learning model website. Within 10 days, teachers in grades preschool – 12th grade and in all subject areas worked hard to establish e-learning modules for the website’s launch on April 13.

By the end of the day, Monday, April 13, the Continuous Learning website experienced 11,681 unique page views and a grand total of 16,800+ views! To date, 31,400+ total page views have been recorded. This is incredible and speaks to the desire that our students and parents have for participating in educational enrichment opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic closure. 

E-LEARNING MODULES – THE GOOD

The pandemic has thrown thousands of teachers across the United States into an environment that many have never experienced and Muskie staff are no different. Without exception, Muskie teachers have accepted the challenge with gusto.  COVID-19 has highlighted the resilience of Muskie staff and the dedication they have to their profession and especially their students.

Grant Elementary 6th grade teachers Ms. Schumacher, Mrs. Duffe, and Mrs. Bertotti have established a virtual book club with the 6th-grade class. They just finished “The Call of the Wild” and are now starting to read “Unteachables.” The book club meets twice weekly.

Preschool teacher, Mrs. Brewer noted that “teaching lessons to a computer screen is MUCH more difficult than teaching to a class of 19 four-year-olds. I miss their responses and the looks on their face when the light bulb turns on. However, I know we are all doing the best that we can and these video lessons are a great way to keep those wheels turning in their heads!”

Many parents and students have voiced their support for the online modules. Shani, Jefferson 1st grader, had this to say, “Seeing my teacher made me happy. I liked that she read a book to us.” She also enjoyed her art teacher’s lesson on heroes. Shani’s mom, Christina, said that watching her daughter’s eyes light up as she viewed the videos of her teachers was priceless. 

Amber Schulte, parent to a 1st grader at Grant Elementary, stated that overall she loves the format and how easy it is to use. She appreciates that the videos are short since both she and her husband are still working, and it is a lot to get done in the evening hours. 

A McKinley Elementary parent, Randy Smith, likes the fact that his two elementary students can participate in upper-grade level lessons to further enrich their learning.

E-LEARNING MODULES – COMPLICATIONS 

Even though we are in a digital age where everything can be found on the internet and cell phones have become a need as opposed to a want, the district recognizes that not all of its students have access to this e-learning opportunity. Muscatine Power and Water, a community partner, has agreed to offer wi-fi satellite locations in several neighborhoods (Jefferson and Franklin Elementary parking areas and Muscatine Community College) as well as a special discounted student package for internet services during the closure timeframe. 

E-learning also has its difficulties when multiple family members need devices especially when parents are also working from home. Grant Elementary teacher Lisa Paul shared that she and her husband, Sam Paul, MHS ag teacher, and their three school-aged children have run into some snags in trying to make this work for everyone. They also live in a rural area where internet broadband is not the best highlighting the need for Iowa’s rural citizens to have better options to be connected to the world wide web.

In an effort to provide educational learning opportunities for those students who do not have electronic devices at home or internet service, the district is developing paper packets of enrichment learning worksheets for each elementary grade level. These grade-level packets will be available in the coming weeks. Middle and high school students can also receive paper packets but must contact their child’s guidance counselor or through another avenue per the information in the letter parents received from their child’s building principal last week.

CONNECTIONS ARE IMPORTANT

Across the district, connections are being made daily. Every Monday, Madison 2nd grade co-teachers Miss Zitzow and Mrs. Mohror have established two virtual meeting times for students to join to say hi! They call them their “Miss You Monday’s.”  They take part in fun activities like a show and tell, a scavenger hunt, a rock, paper, scissors tournament, a snack idea exchange, and even a dance-off! Next week they are planning a live directed drawing activity. Mrs. Mohror stated, “It’s been an excellent way to see their faces and catch up. We get to check in with them and see what needs they might have. We have also had other teachers get to join us and share what they have been up to as well! Even just to see their faces fills my heart. I miss them so much!” 

Muskie Early Learning Center preschool teacher Lindsey Brewer stated, “Keeping tabs on my kiddos during this closure has been a little difficult since most need adult assistance to access any form of technology. It’s almost like a game of telephone: you contact the parents, the parents let their kiddos know what you say, and then they relay a message back to you.”  Mrs. Brewer also sent out some old fashion “snail mail” and have received so many responses that students were excited to get something in the mail especially for them. 

A couple of times each week, Madison fifth-grade teacher Jillian Poppe connects with her students via Google’s Hangouts Meet just so they can see each other’s faces and talk about what they have been doing to stay busy during this time. She said, “It is great to see familiar faces and hear that so many miss school!” It is also a great way for her to answer any technical questions related to the continuous learning environment. Parents have told her that their child looks forward to the virtual meetings and having the ability to see their teacher and friends. Other teachers even join their meetings such as the art and gym teacher, and sometimes even the principal! This is a great way for her students to stay connected as a class and “see” each other. 

Connecting online is not only good for students but also for teachers. Lyndsay Welsch, 3rd-grade teacher at Grant Elementary noted that her recent Google Hangouts Meet not only lifted her spirits, but her students did not want to hang up when it was time to go.

MHS biology teacher Cathy Kramer keeps in contact with her students via telephone. She noted, “It has been a lifeline to many of my students who do not have the technology available right now.  It is such a relief to hear when they are doing well!” Currently, MHS science teachers are working on science modules to help high school students stay current on their knowledge and allow them to expand on their interests.

Superintendent Riibe stated:

“The COVID-19 situation has created an environment that can be difficult for children. The efforts of MCSD teachers in reaching out to students, the online learning opportunities, the Grab-and-Go lunches and breakfast, and the food pantry are important connections back to our community. During these challenging times, MCSD will continue to make a commitment to serve and connect our community to the best of our ability. We thank Muscatine for the support and patience shown to the district.”

The district is aware its work is not done and the continuous learning opportunities are not perfect or tailored to fit every family situation. MCSD will continue to plan to make sure its classrooms are ready for students when they return, be that in May or August. Rest assured, students’ grade placement will not be jeopardized by the closure. The Continuous Learning website will remain available through the summer months so students and parents can utilize it as much or as often as desired. 

The district would like to thank all of its staff, volunteers, parents, students, and the community-at-large for their hard work and support as it navigates this time of uncertainty. Muskie Nation will come out of this stronger and united. 

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