MCLAUGHLIN, S.D. (KELO) — The McLaughlin School District has taken serious precautions when it comes to protecting their students and the community from COVID-19, including cancelling winter sports.
To start, the McLaughlin School District began their hybrid model for the school year. After seeing the impact one positive COVID-19 case can have on a community, the district decided to shift to remote learning, but administration and staff wanted to be sure all students had access to the internet for their learning. That’s why the district worked with its local internet provider.
George Shipley Jr. is the McLaughlin School District Superintendent. He said now, the McLaughlin school district helps to provide internet to over 90% of their students.
“Our connectivity rate went up from 66% to now we’re at 93%. So, over 93% of our kids have access to the internet, and that makes a huge difference. Now, we’re seeing that the State of South Dakota is following and they’re offering that also, so we really feel good. And, that’s just affirmation that we did the right thing,” Shipley said.
Steps were also taken for the district’s younger learners. The tech department and administration researched different ways for children first grade and under to learn without using the internet. They found a unique tool for little learners to use.
“It’s like a little iPad, real little, and it is loaded with lessons from preschool to third grade. So, our little kids now have that at home. So they’re able, without access to the internet, go in and it’s really neat. It asks them a few questions and then it determines your level. Then, you do a reading lesson, then it’s bah-bah-bah-bah and you get to play a game, and then you do a math lesson and bah-bah-bah-bah, you get to play a game. Then you do a reading lesson,” Shipley said.
Despite going almost completely remote, the district still has some staff in schools and has regulations there as well.
“As far as protecting our staff, masks are required in all common areas of our complex. Anyone who comes into the complex, whether you’re UPS; FedEx or anything else, you’re required to wear a mask. Safety is number one, but we are able to help our kids on an individual basis and work closely. So if you do have any questions or need that added touch, we’re able to do it in a real small environment, so that’s been really important,” Shipley said.
The district offers one on one help with teachers. Parents and guardians can set up tutoring times for their students.
“We take temperatures, we ask the COVID questions, you’re required to wear a mask and then there’s plexiglass between you and the teacher. Then, you’re able to get individual work,” Shipley said.
Another way McLaughlin School District is staying in contact with their students is by continuing programs and activities that would happen if students were in the classroom.
“We’re still doing students of the month. So, we have awards and virtual celebrations. Then, we go out and, I know the elementary school principal puts a student of the month sign in their yard. We’re really working as much as we can to try and find virtual socializing activities,” Shipley said.
But, there are some activities that the district made the hard decision to cancel. The school’s football season was cancelled/postponed to spring. The district is part of all nations conference which had cancelled their games. Winter sports were also cancelled for the district, like basketball and wrestling.
“One of the reasons we did that is because those are really contact sports. That are indoors. Again, our top priority is to make sure our students are safe,” Shipley said.
The district took into account what regulations other schools may have too.
“It’s just very difficult and it’s challenging for all schools in the area because you might have one standard of expectations for safety and you go to another community that has a different standard norm,” Shipley said.
However, without having some of the typical sports at school, staff and administration wanted to continue other constants that students would typically see, like school meals.
“Everyday breakfast and lunch goes out. So, at 11:30 our time, people who live in McLaughlin come into our ‘U’ area, our drive around ‘U’ and they pick up their lunch and breakfast for their kids. Then, our bus drivers come in and they run a route with help from the kitchen, with another one of our staff, not the kitchen staff, but paraprofessionals from the elementary school. They go to each community,” Shipley said.
Shipley said that many decisions the district administration and school board made were hard, but it’s all for the well-being of their students and their community.
“We didn’t want our kids, who obviously have a very low chance of any fatality of this disease, passing it onto their grandparents or parents,” Shipley said.