Clarkfield Charter School is one of the many area schools braving the reopening process to guide young ones better into their educational future. In the continuing waves of Covid-19 cases, education systems are continuously revamping techniques to keep students safe and facilities operational. Clarkfield Charter Director Kathy Koetter sat down with Advocate Tribune, digitally, to give the community the 411 on how the school year has started. “The first week of school went very smoothly. Our staff had worked hard to get our visuals and reminders in place; which really helped our students. These included the markings on the floor, where to stand in the hallways and in the cafeteria, signs that reminded them about social distancing and other ways you could greet your friends, coughing into your sleeve, not touching each other, the importance of handwashing and building these health lessons and reminders into the daily schedule and routines” explained Koetter in detail. Educator Grant Hill who handles physical education for grades K-6 noted “I see that students have quickly adjusted to social distancing measures inside the building. During phy-ed which is outside the K-2 students have made a big improvement from the 1 st day of school. Reminders have decreased and now are just needed when we transition. For example, when changing sides in kickball a reminder is sometimes needed for all the kickers who were playing defense. The 3rd – 6th graders have completely adapted to distancing measures even when transitioning”.

Other adaptations have come to the classroom settings, “Each teacher has rearranged their classrooms so the equipment and desks are spread apart with no extra furniture or pieces of equipment. We took a physical inventory before school began to ensure everything in the classroom was essential for learning and also took into consideration what could be cleaned and disinfected daily.” reported Koetter. More safety measures abound including staff monitoring of arrival and dismissal times to ensure students are not congregating in the hallways and are getting to where they need to be. Arrivals and dismissals are also staggered to accommodate social distancing practices. Koetter commended parent’s work in readying the students for the new structure, “The parents have also prepared the students extremely well; they were already familiar with wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing”.

Currently the charter school has 58 preschool through sixth grade students for in-person learning with eight students utilizing the distance learning model at home. There have been no Covid reported cases in the school system since the start of the school year.

Third grade educator Elsa Boe credits the students with making the transition back to the classroom successful, “The students have been very flexible and understanding of the new rules. They can comprehend the importance of wearing masks around their peers and in the classroom, especially to protect themselves and others” going to add “As third graders, my students are able to understand the importance of masks and it has been relatively easy to implement the new safety measures. They are wonderful students and want to keep each other safe”.

When considering if any of the initial plans required changes to protect students differently since the reopen, Koetter explained “No significant changes have been needed. We will continue to monitor daily the health of our students and staff and make the changes necessary to our learning plan; with guidance from Countryside Public Health, Minnesota Department of Health and our Regional Support Team. The staff is committed to providing the best education we can to our students this year while keeping a healthy and safe learning environment”.

In finding what is working and what needs tweaking in the classrooms, Elsa Boe discovered “Have a place for students to store their masks effectively; ex. hanging off the desk or in their locker.” This helpful storage hint has been key in keeping mask use at the front of young minds. Teacher Grant Will added “Dots on the floor are like magnets; students are naturally pulled to them! Wings has been a helpful directive in phy-ed. “Wings” (extending both arms out then rotating the waist) is a helpful way for students to distance themselves appropriately. “Wings” is an obvious non-verbal cue for students. If they need to move, their wings can help them fly to a safer distance”.

This feedback and the helpful hints of what's working at Clarkfield Charter are simply more tools in the belts of all area educators. Sharing information and techniques is proving to be a valuable asset to teachers, coaches and various school districts, all who are working towards the same goals, keeping students safe and keeping the doors open.