Parents who think their students could use more in-person education after a year of part-time “distance learning” have opportunities for their children to experience it this summer in the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District. The ACGC School Board heard about the programs at its April 26 meeting in Cosmos.
All students in preschool through eighth grade can enroll in a free three-mornings-per-week (Tuesday-Thursday) summer learning program in Atwater that will last up to nine weeks. Subjects like reading, math, music, art, science and technology may be coordinated with summer recreation activities like baseball, allowing children to participate in both sports and academics this summer. Free breakfasts and lunches are included in the four-hour days, with transportation available for those whose families cannot bring them to Atwater.
Elementary Principal Kodi Goracke said that more than 220 students have enrolled to date, and more were expected to register last week. Twenty-three teachers and 11 paraeducators plan to work summer hours.
High school students have opportunities for credit recovery (two days a week) and extra instruction in algebra three days per week.
High School-Middle School Principal Robin Wall told the board that the extra help in algebra is being offered because that is the subject in which students seemed to struggle the most during the time they did not have in-person learning. Two math teachers will be teaching algebra part-time during the summer months; it is estimated that approximately 20 students will participate
“Many don’t want to do algebra online…but the students really have to be there as it is a condensed course,” Wall told the board. Students will also be able to work toward credit recovery in other subjects.
“This is a second opportunity for distance learners to get engaged,” added Superintendent Nels Onstad.
This summer programming is being funded primarily by special state and federal grants designed to help students make up lost time after an academic year plagued by cancellations and quarantines due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Onstad expects approximately twice as many students to participate in summer school, compared to a normal year.
Whether or not their students participate in summer programs, families may pick up free lunch supplies once a week in each of the district’s three communities. They are encouraged to also fill out free-and-reduced school lunch paperwork to assist with tracking financial needs within the district.
Since ACGC enrollment remained steady during the pandemic emergency, school staffing will be similar to the 2020-2021 year. Since several retirements and resignations have occurred, school officials interviewed for replacements.
Among those hired last week were Grace Jorgenson for special education and Abby Smith for an open elementary position in Atwater. Thomas Rosengren was hired to teach sixth grade in Grove City. A list of fall and winter coaching assignments and an assistant golf coach Quincy McNeil, needed due to larger participation in that sport this spring, were approved. The board also approved a contract with the golf course.
The district will also be replacing two long-time administrative office assistants, Sandy Benson and Cleone Larson, who retired this spring after more than 20 years each with the district. Several board members expressed appreciation for their service.
Tenure was approved for teacher Angela Walsh.
Four-day week cooperation
Onstad added that, thanks to unprecedented cooperation with two other four-day-per-week rural school districts, MACRAY and BBE, several rigorous academic online classes are being added to the district’s curriculum. The subjects include college calculus and advanced Spanish, which, in a typical year interest only 8-10 students per district. By coordinating distance learning between the three schools, the numbers could be made to work for joint classes. Other subjects could include accounting, physics, college chemistry, sociology, computer programming, marketing and psychology.
A four-day student week has been state-approved through 2022, so the ACGC calendar will remain similar to previous years, with students attending mostly Tuesdays through Fridays. The board included several flexible learning days (mostly Mondays) to allow for weather and/or distance learning make-up. Classes will begin for students on Sept. 7, 2021, and end May 27, 2022. Vacation breaks were set at Oct. 21-22, Dec. 24-Jan. 3, and April 15-18.
Business Manager Wendy Holle updated the board on how extra “pandemic” relief funds from the state and federal governments were being used at ACGC. To date, more than $300,000 has been received and spent, with about two million more dollars expected in the near future. The district has varying leeway in how the relief should be spent, Holle reported. Some grants are more flexible, while others, such as $45,800 in GEER funding, can only be spent on summer school programs.
Holle explained how average daily membership is calculated by the state to support local programs. Special education is the hardest item to budget as both funding and needs change frequently.
Goracke reported more than 95 percent average attendance at her building in Atwater. At the high school/middle school, 93.8 percent of enrollees are in class each day, Wall stated. (Wall added that 51 students remain in distance learning.) The pandemic upset the district’s academic testing schedule, but students are being tested, although it is later than usual and most of the distance learners have not come in yet, she said. “Lots of make up testing is going on.”
At both schools, field trip opportunities are being brought to the students instead of bussing the students off campus. Goracke expects an FFA petting zoo to be set up May 7 on campus.
In-person special events are being planned at the high school for May 8 (prom), May 12 (choir/band concerts), May 26 (baccalaureate) and May 28 (graduation), Wall reported. Those events are subject to alterations if the pandemic worsens and tighter restrictions come into place.
“We still have very little transmission at school, but the variant is causing an increase in young people,” Onstad reported. “Several staff have been quarantined and a handful have tested positive."