One-third of Virtual Vikings to return to classrooms second semester

NILES — High school students returned to classrooms last week, and Niles Community Schools Superintendent Dan Applegate could not be happier.

“Things are going really, really well,” Applegate said. “We have sent out reminders to parents to remind them to check for symptoms. Parents have been great at keeping students home.”

He said the students themselves are also happy to be back.

“You can see their smiles behind their masks,” Applegate said. “Our kids are really good kids. They want to be there. They want to be engaged.”

With Wednesday’s update from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to the pandemic orders, Applegate said some sports practices will begin on Saturday. Other extracurricular activities will be starting back up as well.

Applegate said teachers and staff are also continuing to be vigilant in monitoring their symptoms on a daily basis. He said those actions, paired with the spacing, masks and increased precaution measures put in place at the beginning of the school year, have helped keep students in school safely.

“We have been very lucky and have had very, very low transmission [of COVID-19] in schools,” Applegate said. “We have been fortunate to not have to close our doors other than when the health orders mandate it.”

Other area schools, like Brandywine Community Schools and Buchanan Community Schools, have had to implement their own virtual learning periods for all students as student and staff quarantines due to exposure rose.

As the second semester nears its beginning next week, Applegate said about a third of students who enrolled in the school’s Virtual Viking program, which has adapted throughout the year, as feedback has been taken into account from students, parents and guardians, will be returning to in-person learning.

“Quite a few are returning from virtual,” Applegate said. “Any students we feel need to be supported with in-person instruction, we are strongly encouraging to have them return to in-person.”

Applegate said in-person education is what teachers excel at.

“In-person instruction is our goal. It’s the most effective method of instruction,” Applegate said.

Still, with two-thirds of Virtual Vikings opting to stay in a remote education setting, Applegate said there are plans in place for every student to go to remote education if mandates shift again.

“Our goal is to provide in-person [education] as long as we safely can, unless the Berrien County Health Department tells us to go a different direction,” Applegate said. “We have our plans already in place.”

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