While the word “unprecedented” is used less often these days, the pandemic continues to set askew any pattern of normality. In White Bear Lake Area Schools, we are seeking to turn challenges into opportunities to set a new, better precedent.
We began the school year with a way of learning new to all of us. Families chose for their students a hybrid model experience, with students going to school two days a week and having at-home learning the other days, or full distance learning delivered online.
More recently, all of our students K-12 transitioned to full distance learning. While details have been ironed out as guidance and circumstances change, I am proud of the flexibility and resilience that have been shown as we are living and learning lessons that will help all of us to be nimble and find community when facing challenges.
The pandemic has provided opportunities to engage innovatively. Our teachers and students are finding new ways to maintain classroom connections. The way this looks for each teacher is different, but examples include musical sketches, shared on-screen activities and new apps used for creative learning. Guardians are getting into the mix too by attending virtual conferences.
The Community Services Department has begun offering more virtual classes and opportunities for lifelong learners of all ages from birth to senior program. School board, committee and neighborhood meetings have begun taking place virtually, allowing presentations to be heard and questions to be asked remotely. While this isn’t our usual way of getting together, it has been rewarding to interact in new ways with residents who haven’t interacted with us as readily in the past.
We are gathering feedback differently with the use of a new crowdsourcing platform that allows for virtual interactions. Participants provide thoughts, review and provide feedback on others’ ideas and see a snapshot of the conversation. The voices of students, families and staff members were invaluable as we began the year, and they remain an important part of the district’s processes with additional community conversations taking place.
When feedback revealed that our families needed additional support, the district added initiatives to help foster physical and mental well-being. The free Bear Care Health and Wellness Clinic, located at North Campus, offers students of all ages access to preventative and acute care health services. A Mental Wellness Support Line was soon added and provides families with connections to resources for children ages birth-21.
The district has always connected students and families with essential services, but it has become even more important. The website’s new support hub provides families with important resources and access to information for essential services including crisis response, basic needs, mental health and well-being, physical health, social emotional learning and more. The “one stop shop” for anybody looking for support moves away from a siloed approach.
In the midst of moving parts and discovering new ways to do things, we continue to be committed to providing a high-quality education for all of our students in whatever situation we find ourselves in. The coursework may be delivered differently, but our students’ experiences will remain robust and engaging.
The life lessons we are all learning today, those of innovation and adaptability, will be remembered long after these challenging days are behind us and we’ve set a new, better precedent.
Dr. Wayne A. Kazmierczak is the Superintendent of White Bear Lake Area Schools.