At their separate meetings last week, the Joppa-Maple Grove and Massac Unit 1 school boards made the decision to return to a five-day school week.

For JMG students, it begins Monday.

For Unit 1 students, it’s scheduled to begin a month later — on Monday, March 8, which is the beginning of the final nine-weeks of the school year.

Joppa-Maple GroveThe extension of in-person instruction for JMG students will be by one day as students will attend from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The days’ last hour — 2-3 p.m. — will continue to be a time for teachers to specifically work with remote learners.

Sanitation efforts and mask breaks will also continue.

According to JMG principal Dr. Jeff Defour, the number of remote learners at Maple Grove Elementary and Joppa Junior/Senior High schools has decreased since the fall semester

“We have seven full-time learners at the elementary school, five at the junior high school and 10 at the high school — four of those at the high school are seniors. The total percentage district wide is 9.48%,” he informed the JMG Unit 38 school board at its Monday, Jan. 25, meeting.

Teachers, parents and the community were asked to fill out a survey on Jan. 20 for the input on extending in-person instruction According to superintendent Dr. Vickie Artman, 75% of teachers said they were ready for students to return to a full school week.

“We have had a successful first semester,” Artman said. “The board thanks our entire staff for their flexibility and perseverance as we work both remotely and in-person to provide a healthy and educational learning environment. We appreciate the support of our parents, students and community as we continued to do our best to educate students.”

Massac Unit 1When Unit 1 begins its new learning schedule on March 8, it will be the first time in almost a year since students have had a five-day, 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. school week.

“We haven’t had a full day or full week of school yet during the 2020-21 school year,” superintendent Jason Hayes said. “We all simply want to do what is best for our students. Despite all our efforts, the lack of in-person learning has significantly impacted student learning. Unit 1 is simply trying to do whatever we can to improve this situation for our students.”

And, with it being the beginning of the final nine weeks, “it’s a good time to transition,” he added.

The school board’s discussion at its Monday, Jan. 25, meeting lasted an hour as “at the end of the day, we were trying to figure out how to keep everybody as safe as possible and make this work,” Hayes said.

As part of returning to a regular school schedule, the board voted to end remote learning as an education option and to extend the school day to its regular 8 a.m until 3 p.m.

“We — the teachers’ union, the school board, administration — all agreed we didn’t feel like we could expand to five days a week while keeping the remote instruction going,” Hayes said. “We all feel like instruction overall would suffer, and we won’t be gaining anything as teachers are being pulled too many directions now.”

Hayes said everyone understands that “ending remote learning causes some anxiety for those worried about COVID, but we do have to, at some point, try to get back to normal. One of the things we talked about was the importance of ending (the school year) as normal as possible because it does set the stage for the fall. Last year, we ended with a willy-nilly (attitude), and when we returned in the fall, that expectation was still there. Our failure rate is through the roof.”

Of the 1864 students enrolled in Unit 1 this school year, 1294 are failing. Of those 1864 students, 466 are full-remote learners. At this same point in the 2019-20 school year, there were 2021 enrolled and 291 were failing.

“(The failure rate is) basically tripled and most of it is remote learners,” Hayes said. “Remote learning is not as effective, and it’s harder, and it’s resulted in more failures — that’s one reason why (the board) wanted to get rid of that option. We’re going to offer summer school for all levels.”

Another concern is the mental health of students as “there’s just so much anxiety, depression and stress; it’s tough and concerning,” Hayes said. “As hard as our teachers and parents are working, what we are doing right now is not working. If we can get back to normal school and back in the buildings, I really think things will be better for our kids.”

The administrative team is currently working on the plan, including lunch times, which with a 50-person limit may be problematic at Metropolis Elementary, Massac Junior High and Massac County High schools.

“I think we can figure it out. I wouldn’t be opposed to five days a week with no remote learning and working up to lunch until we can figure things out,” Hayes said. “We’re worried about longterm effects and trying to figure out how to make all of this work without putting anyone in harm’s way unnecessarily.”

Hayes noted March 8 “is still a tentative date. We’re doing to have to watch COVID data as we approach that date. We’re going to work backwards from that date and figuring out what we need to do to make this happen.

“We’re going to give it a go, one way or the other.”

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