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EDUCATION IN A PANDEMIC: Waterloo Schools talk fall semester priorities, final plan coming next month

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WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) -- For several weeks in Waterloo, six committees, made up of Waterloo Community Schools' teachers and staff, worked to determine what the next school year would look like.

Associate Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Mohorne expects a hybrid model of instruction, including virtual and in-peron learning. While not definite, she expects students are likely to be required to wear a mask.

"Everything is on the table. We're considering a lot of things," Mohorne said.

For teachers in a pandemic, this fall will be a new kind of test. Mohorne offered some of the questions they'r taking into account when prioritizing safety plans for the fall.

"How are we keeping our kids and families safe? How are we going to make sure that while we're keeping them safe we are still educating them?" Mohorne said.

The school district submitted its first draft of a fall plan to the state, which was approved by Governor Kim Reynolds.

"But we want honest feedback of what people think about the first try of our plan," Mohorne said.

Currently in its revisions stage, the plan is set to get feedback this month from parents, staff and community members.

Expect classrooms to look differently this fall, possibly with socially distanced desks and extra protective measures. Changes to the school bus, the playground, and the lunch room are all likely.

With remote learning comes some challenges with access. The school district purchased hundreds of Chrombook computers to ensure each student has one between 1st and 12th grade. However, not every family has access to internet.

"That's what we're still trying to explore, a combination of hot spots, we're working with Mediacom. So that conversation is happening as well," Mohorne said.

Teachers like Phaedra Roby still deciding how the classroom could look this fall, but knowing that communication with parents is key.

"I have parents that work during the day and then like, i'm not off till eight well guess what i'm still available after eight," Roby said.

As she's opening her schedule, opportunities outside the district are opening for her students in the form of free, virtual field trips.

"We wouldn't have ever been able to go to the museum in Chicago, but they opened up the virtual field trips where the kids could actually go in and take that virtual field trip," Roby said.

Many of the trips offer interactive control of the video while a guide explains what they're seeing.

While this is a great substitution, Roby says the instruction aspect weighs on her mind going into this next school year.

"Our biggest concern is to make sure that our kids are getting their education. Right now, whatever we have to do, I feel confident that teachers in the Waterloo district are willing to do whatever needs to be done to make sure that happens," Roby said.

Throughout the school year, the district plans to review different data sets in order to gauge how the plan is working. This includes things from student health and safety to academic progress.

The final plan will be made public sometime in August.

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Taylor Vessel

Multimedia Reporter

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