Brandywine, Buchanan schools back to the classroom

BERRIEN COUNTY – Some students in Berrien County are relieved to have returned to in-person learning this week after more than a month out of the classroom.

High school students opting for in-person learning returned to classrooms at Brandywine Community Schools and Buchanan Community Schools on Jan. 4 after the Michigan state mandated “pause” that led into the holiday break.

The original three week pause was put into effect on Nov. 18 by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for in-person learning for high school students. It was extended by the state on Dec. 7 to Dec. 20.

For Brandywine Middle and High School students, who share a building, Superintendent Karen Weimer said this meant both sets of students took the pause and returned together on Monday.

“We were thrilled to have everybody,” Weimer said of the in-person students returning. “We share so many teachers, and they are excited to be back.”

Many teachers cross over between the grade levels. Going remote for middle and high school students made sense, according to Weimer.
After the break, Weimer said Brandywine Community Schools are adhering to the same safety protocols in regards to COVID-19 they were using before.

“We’ve obviously had some quarantines and some cases, but the safety protocols we have put in place have helped with the mitigation of spreading the virus. We continue to monitor things, and things are going well.”

For Buchanan Community Schools, its school system had already been on its own self-imposed pause due to having 11 staff members and 122 students in isolation or quarantine as of Nov. 10. Superintendent Patricia Robinson announced the district would move to full remote learning for all students from Nov. 11 through Dec. 4. As the state mandated “pause” was ordered, and then extended, the district followed suit.

“Students learning in-person are probably at a 90-percent attendance rate across the district,” Robinson said. “I think families and kids were really anxious to get back into the schedule and in a pattern.”

Robinson said she knew the remote learning had been tough on some students. Some of the students thrive in any learning environment, and some struggle more when they are in a remote setting.

“Our teams and teachers were figuring out ways to support them,” Robinson said. “They were able to get emotional support from the counselors at the high school level.”

Due to that, Robinson is happy students enrolled in in-person learning were able to return after the holidays.

Buchanan Community Schools is continuing with its cleaning and safety precautions put in place before the holiday.

“We are doing some extra cleaning. We are social distancing with masks in place, and all of those strategies to help mitigate,” Robinson said. “We actually saw that it has been working.”

Superintendents in charge of school systems in the Berrien County area work with the Berrien County Health Department and discuss weekly updated data and on how other schools are navigating the pandemic with their students.

“There’s a strong network partnership type of team going on within the county that has helped everybody get through the process,” Robinson said.

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