Students meet with teacher Jennifer Megge at Monfort Elementary School Sept. 2 to discuss how online instruction will be operating.

Students meet with teacher Jennifer Megge at Monfort Elementary School Sept. 2 to discuss how online instruction will be operating.

Photo by Kara Szymanski

Utica students get a different kind of back-to-school experience

By: Kara Szymanski | Shelby - Utica News | Published September 4, 2020


SHELBY TOWNSHIP/UTICA — Utica Community Schools administrators, teachers, students and families had a new type of back-to-school experience this year, with all students using remote learning until at least Oct. 30.

Parents and their children met in small groups with their teachers at their schools Sept. 1-3 for the scheduled start of the school year as part of a plan to distribute laptops to all Utica Community Schools students.

Masks were required to be worn, and social distancing was followed during the meetings.

The small group meetings allowed families to receive more information and learn about the remote and virtual learning expectations of the students.

Each child received a computer and a gift bag to start off their new school year.

Robert Monroe, the interim superintendent for Utica Community Schools, said this week that students and teachers meeting was a way to give parents, their children and their teachers some time to work together to communicate and become comfortable in person with the new way of learning.

“We recognized that this was not a typical opening for Utica Community Schools. It is for that reason that we did not approach the first days of school in a traditional way. We felt it was important this week to step back and give our teachers, students and families time to connect and be comfortable with the remote and virtual learning. This year, Utica Community Schools is providing a device to every student. Through this process, students were able to visit schools in small groups to meet teachers and learn more about their learning plan and course expectations. Our teachers and students made great connections during the week, and it allowed everyone to focus on a positive start to the new year,” said Monroe.

He said this change might be a tough one, but the district believes that this is the best way to keep the routine of schooling moving forward and everyone safe.

“We know that this is a tough time for children and families. It is important now and throughout the year we continue to work closely together. Through a deliberate and careful start, we knew we could establish an effective routine based on shared expectations, mutual respect and a continued dedication to educational excellence. I want to thank our staff for their tremendous work throughout this process to position our students for success,” he said.

The laptops that were provided to Utica Community Schools families are being funded through a 2018 bond approved by district voters. Each laptop came with the specific apps used by teachers to support their instruction.

Teachers received their devices last week, and professional development continues on the use of the apps as a tool for their courses.

If a child does happen to have issues with the computer during the school year, a plan is in place to allow the student to meet at the school to work out any issues or swap computers.

Kristine Verbrugge, a teacher at Burr Elementary School in Sterling Heights, said she has been preparing all summer to master the aspect of teaching her classes virtually.

“I have actually been preparing all summer by reading and taking as much online training as I can. Since we heard that we will begin in a remote mode, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how the first week will look, because I really want to meet individually with each family and get to know everybody as much as possible very early on. I’ve also been making plans for making videos for my kiddos. I had a great time making videos for my class in the spring; it gave me an opportunity to take my class to different places and do activities with living things we would ordinarily have done in the classroom. So now I’m looking at fall video ideas,” she said.

She said this is a challenging time for everyone, but challenges are an opportunity to grow.

“I am looking forward to this year with excitement. I can’t wait to see what we can reimagine about teaching and learning, and what new heights we can achieve together,” she said.

Dr. Kecia J. Waddell, a special services teacher for UCS, said that with this unique change to the school year, relationships with students, teachers and parents have been strengthened.

“On the bright side, the academic, social and emotional well-being of our students, and quite frankly of each other as a community of learners, have been strengthened. Respecting the health and safety protocols of the moment, we are all being upskilled together, and it’s a beautiful thing,” said Waddell.