Traverse City News and Events

What "Back To School" Might Look Like In Traverse City

By Craig Manning | June 7, 2020

Staggered schedules, closed campuses, adjusted school calendars, and hybrid online and in-person instructional approaches -- just a few of the strategies local schools are weighing as they plan for the 2020-21 academic year.

While local schools are planning to reopen buildings and resume on-premise learning this fall, they aren’t taking that outcome for granted. Administrators for both Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) and Traverse City Christian School say they are simultaneously preparing for three different models of instructional delivery: a normal face-to-face model, a 100 percent remote learning model, and a hybrid model that mixes elements of both in-person and distance learning.

“Speaking hypothetically, there are a number of ways the hybrid model could look,” explains Jim Pavelka, interim superintendent for TCAPS. “Essentially, it would be students in class a couple of days a week and getting assignments, with other work being done remotely from home on other days. For younger students, that could mean going to class two or three days a week and then switching out classrooms with other students. The objective would be to reduce potential exposures by having fewer students gathered in a building at any one time, to allow our schools to space desks six feet apart, and to ensure thorough cleaning in between sessions.”

Pavelka adds that TCAPS is in the process of surveying parents to get their input. He acknowledges that the district’s transition to distance learning this spring “was not perfect” and says the district is taking time to “reflect and learn from our experience with remote delivery over the last few months and to identify areas for improvement and additional support.” Even if the worst of COVID-19 proves to be in the past, Pavelka believes TCAPS needs a means of delivering “high-quality instruction in multiple ways under multiple scenarios.” Having an easy-to-implement remote learning approach, he suggests, could even help TCAPS avoid future school disruptions caused by inclement weather.

Traverse City Christian has been conducting its own surveys of families to assess the reception for spring 2020 distance learning. TC Christian was one of the first schools in the area to pivot to remote learning, implementing the transition immediately upon the initial school closure and ultimately missing no instructional time. Tyler Van Schepen, the school’s superintendent, says “parents have been very happy with how things went during our time of distance learning” and that TC Christian should be ready to revert to an all-remote approach again if necessary.

As they plan to reopen, Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) and Interlochen Arts Academy are facing unique challenges based on their community college and boarding school setups. Diana Fairbanks, NMC’s executive director of public relations, marketing, and communications, notes that a hurdle for the college is the sheer diversity of programs and experiences it offers.

“Think about the different needs of an aviation student from Alaska, a dual-enrolled calculus student from Kingsley, a Great Lakes Maritime Academy cadet from Louisiana, a returning adult nursing student from Kalkaska, and an English composition student planning to transfer to MSU,” Fairbanks says. “We are working to make sure the classes that need to be done in person can be, while also creating more options, including online, for those that can be offered in other ways.” She adds that NMC is already beginning to restart some of its in-person classes for summer students, particularly “those spring lab classes that must be done in person.”

Interlochen faces similar challenges, given that it draws pupils from around the world. The institution has developed a detailed and aggressive “Fall Re-Entry Plan," which includes changes to the calendar, “contained campus” protocols, and more. Typically, Interlochen’s calendar is similar to that of other Michigan schools, with semesters beginning in early September and early January, respectively. This year, Interlochen will start its school year on August 17 and take a two-month winter break to coincide with Michigan’s flu season; students will return to campus on February 15. Throughout the school year, boarding students will be barred from traveling off campus, including for Thanksgiving, while staff and students who do not live on campus will be asked not to travel outside northern Michigan.

As part of the contained campus approach, Interlochen will also temporarily cease all public performances. Student performances will be livestreamed or otherwise distributed online, while outside performers will not be invited to or permitted to utilize Interlochen venues. The decision prompted Traverse Symphony Orchestra, which regularly performs at Interlochen’s Corson Auditorium, to cancel its 2020-21 season.

“We're sorry about [not being able to hold public performances], but I think that during this period of remote learning and remote performances, we've learned that we can really do a lot more over the internet than we thought was possible,” Interlochen Provost Dr. Camille Colatosti says.

Schools will ultimately be beholden to protocols and guidelines established at the state level. Governor Gretchen Whitmer this past week formed a 25-person “Return to Learn Advisory Council,” responsible for “formalizing a process for determining how schools may be able to reopen in the fall.” The council includes state legislators, students, teachers, principals, administrators, union leaders, and healthcare professionals. Both Wayne Schmidt, Traverse City state senator, and Lisa Peacock, health officer for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, are a part of the council.

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