Niles Community Schools to begin school year Aug. 31

NILES — In an effort to bring students back to their academic studies sooner, Niles Community Schools announced on Wednesday that it will begin classes pre-Labor Day in the fall.

Students will return to classes on Monday, Aug. 31, at the start of the 2020-21 school year. The school year will remain the same length at 180 days. The first two weeks of school will be just four days each in the classroom due to the holiday weekend. This will help ease students back into the schedule, according to school officials.

“It gives us the chance to see the kids and build those relationships that the kids have been missing,” said Niles Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Dan Applegate. “That’s a key piece: the relationships. We want to get them as soon as we can without burdening the community. That’s our focus.”

Striking the balance with summer activities for the community and addressing the “summer learning loss” were both drivers in the decision for Niles Community Schools.

In a release from the schools, officials stated that outside of the traditional summer length of two and a half months, students will have been out of the classroom for five months by the time the school begins in the fall. There is an anticipated increase in learning loss due to the extended length of time out of the classroom that the release refers to as the “COVID slide.” Students’ last day in class was March 13 before Michigan “Stay Home, Stay Safe” mandates were put in place due to COVID-19.

“I can’t say that we are necessarily seeing that in Niles yet,” Applegate said of the COVID slide. “We can’t tell, overall, what the impact is, but we will. Throughout this time, we are learning.”

Applegate hopes that students will be able to return to the school’s classrooms at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year, as opposed to continuing the remote learning that educators are providing now.

“In the fall, if we do have to come back remotely, we will have a better idea of what it takes,” he said.

The difficulties and limitations of remote learning have been a learning curve for the educators and administration, as well as the students and parents.

“The teachers haven’t done it. The parents haven’t done it. The students haven’t done it,” Applegate said.

With the abrupt shift to remote learning, staff have had to be educated remotely on how to use the technology and how to help when internet access is not available for every student.

Applegate hopes that summer education programs may continue going forward. The early start will help to mitigate potential learning loss and address it faster.

“In the whole county, we were discussing [early starts], and then the districts signed on and the school boards signed on. We decided that we would go for a county-wide early start,” Applegate said. “Individual districts would have the option to utilize the pre-Labor Day start.”

The Berrien RESA has been working to coordinate programming schedules along with the early start, including the Berrien RESA Mathematics and Science Center and the shared Career and Technical programs and special education programs. Bridgeman Community Schools, a part of the Berrien RESA, have already utilized a pre-Labor Day start.

According to the release, the Berrien RESA passed the county-wide pre-Labor Day waiver, which allows the districts to elect to begin classes on Aug. 31.

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