On Sept. 8,  Gov. Gretchen Whitmer met with Van Dyke Public Schools educators to receive an update regarding how the district adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Sept. 8, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer met with Van Dyke Public Schools educators to receive an update regarding how the district adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo by Patricia O'Blenes


Governor visits local school district

Whitmer discusses education during the pandemic with Van Dyke Public Schools staff and students

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published September 9, 2021

 During the roundtable discussion Sept. 8 at Lincoln High School,  Gov. Gretchen Whitmer listens as educators talk about how school officials continued to educate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the roundtable discussion Sept. 8 at Lincoln High School, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer listens as educators talk about how school officials continued to educate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo by Patricia O'Blenes

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“Our kids have been living behind screens for 18 months. We want to teach them the skills they need with (the trials) they will encounter. It’s about structure. It’s about routine. It’s about support.”

Susan Ludlum, VDPS Special Services Department Director

WARREN — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer met with Van Dyke Public Schools educators Sept. 8 to hear about their experiences teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The governor held a roundtable discussion with school administrators, dignitaries and students at Lincoln High School. The group met outside in the school courtyard and shared their stories about how the pandemic impacted the district and how educators reacted to it.

“I just appreciate the opportunity to listen and get an understanding of what you are concerned about,” Whitmer said. “This is a great community and a phenomenal district. I wanted to come and hear from the frontlines of what you’re experiencing.”

State Sen. Paul Wojno, D-Warren; state Rep. Lori Stone, D-Warren; Warren Treasurer Lorie Barnwell; and Macomb Intermediate School District Superintendent Michael DeVault were among the attendees. Lincoln High School Assistant Principal Steve Filiccia explained how he and other educators went to the homes of families during the pandemic.

“We did 326 visits. The district started checking on kids that weren’t going to class online,” he said. According to Filiccia, many students were experiencing laptop/internet issues while some students were unmotivated to do their work. Another reason students weren’t logging on was because of other responsibilities. 

“So many of our high school students were online teaching their little (siblings) because their parents had to work,” Filiccia said. He also said students were caring for a parent diagnosed with COVID-19 and even working jobs during school hours to help support the family. After the visits, the Van Dyke teachers and administration worked with the families to see how they could provide additional resources and figure out a schedule to still educate the individual. 

“I didn’t realize how many responsibilities our kids have,” Filiccia said. “They do the cooking, they had to cut the grass. The amount of stuff they were picking up was overwhelming.”

“I thought we saw a lot of that throughout the pandemic,” VDPS Superintendent Piper Bognar said, and it became mutual between students and their classroom teachers. “Students were able to see teachers in their natural habitat. We learned to give everyone quite a bit of grace.” 

The mental health of students during the pandemic has also been a priority as some children felt isolated and depressed, worried about getting COVID-19, and saw family members get the virus. 

“Mental health is a big piece of our district,” VDPS Special Services Department Director Susan Ludlum said, adding the district added an interventionist at each school building. An interventionist addresses the specific needs of a student and works with the teachers to design methods of learning that are most effective. Looking at social skills and anger management have been concerns, and Ludlum said staff members across the district have undergone trauma training over the past three years.

“The people are there so we can keep our kids in school,” Ludlum said. “Our kids have been living behind screens for 18 months. We want to teach them the skills they need with (the trials) they will encounter. It’s about structure. It’s about routine. It’s about support.”

Lincoln seniors Shantelle Gross and Teriona Hunter participated in the roundtable discussion prior to media presence. According to Lincoln High School Principal Billie Sczepaniak, Gross talked about attending school in the district’s Success Academy virtual program. Hunter, active in student council, talked about how the students tried to continue with school activities such as spirit day during the pandemic, but many such events didn’t work out. 

Van Dyke officials are enforcing a mask mandate in which all students, staff and visitors have to wear masks in school buildings and on buses. 

“The students are trying to be as safe as they can. They are taking it seriously,” Sczepaniak said. 

While some districts have implemented a mask mandate, others are leaving the decision up to parents, which has caused controversy in many districts. Sczepaniak agreed that seven hours is a long time for students to wear masks, so when they are outside they can take down their masks. That also goes for when the students are able to be six feet away from each other. 

The roundtable lasted about 30 minutes. The governor took about six questions from the local media after the discussion before leaving the school.

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