APPLEGATE: Isolated together: Communities stand strong amid coronavirus closure

Published 8:21 am Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Before the realities of the coronavirus and its effects on Michigan schools had fully taken shape, school superintendents throughout Berrien County began working together to prepare for what was then a potential crisis. News and developments progressed at an alarming rate, but the group continued to be in close contact. No one could have anticipated every challenge presented by this pandemic, but together, we laid the groundwork for a path forward in our districts.

After all, while the coronavirus has isolated us in many ways, residents of all walks of life have come together now more than ever. Though we may be practicing social distancing, our sense of community has never been stronger.

To that end, we would like to recognize all of our incredible staff who have adapted and quickly responded to the new needs of our students and families during this troubling time. Our incredible teachers, secretaries and staff identified, designed and effectively developed and distributed materials, tools and supports for students, and are continuing to do so while students are at home.

As our food service providers work long hours to prepare and distribute food, our dedicated support staff offered their assistance as well. Counselors have been available to offer assistance to students applying for college or those who just needing a listening ear. The commitment shown by all of our staff to our kids is nothing short of amazing — we are so grateful for all they do.

Our parents and guardians have taken on the role of teacher in many regards, and we are grateful for their commitment to student learning during these uncertain times. We have worked to provide families with up-to-date information and new developments, and we encourage parents to continue reaching out for support.

We have not and will not stop working to keep the students of our communities safe and on track with their academics. For now, we encourage parents and guardians to talk to their children about the coronavirus and address their questions and concerns, keep up with routines and try to maintain a sense of normalcy. Some days will be better than others, and we appreciate families’ efforts to help students stay on track.

To students reading this, we know you might be concerned and confused by what you see on social media or hear and read on the news. We want you to know it’s OK to feel that way. We also want you to know that many adults are working day and night to protect you. During these times, we hope you will continue to focus on your schoolwork and at-home reading, but know it’s OK to have questions and concerns, and talk to an adult about them.

It’s true: despite our combined experience of more than 200 years in education, we have never seen anything like this before. However, we have also never seen anything quite like the sense of togetherness our communities have experienced in recent days and weeks. Our communities and neighboring districts will continue to support students at all costs.

No matter the duration of this pandemic, we will continue to provide information and updates, as well as the resources needed to promote student well-being.

May we all continue to look out for our neighbors and get through this crisis together.

This column was written by the following: Dr. Dan Applegate, Niles Community Schools, Dr. Thomas Bruce, St. Joseph Public Schools, David Ehlers, Coloma Community Schools, Phil Freeman, Lakeshore Public Schools, Shane Peters, Bridgman Public Schools and Ann Shell, Eau Claire Public Schools.