APPLEGATE: Reflecting on the past year and a bright future
One year ago, schools across the country scrambled to create new learning plans for what was, at the time, a completely new and unforeseen challenge. Before the shutdown was announced in Michigan, news was traveling fast that major events were pausing operations to combat the virus, but I never imagined that schools would see the same fate. When we received confirmation from the governor, it took me a minute to process what was happening. We have students, families, teachers and staff that count on their schools for support and normalcy. We had to act fast and make decisions with very little information.
Immediately, our staff and administrators worked to create plans and answer the pressing questions that our families would have of us. We worked closely with the Berrien County Health Department and other Berrien County school leaders in an attempt to ensure our students continued to have access to a high-quality learning experience and other supports they would need. We remained remote for the rest of the school year, providing updates to families on a weekly and, at times, daily basis. We adjusted our end of year activities and worked with parents to redesign events to celebrate the end of school career of our seniors. None of this was ideal.
We spent the summer planning for our return to in-person learning, which heavily focused on safety precautions and cleaning protocols. When the first day of the new school year rolled around, educators across the district, including myself, eagerly greeted students. I was thrilled to see students smiling through their masks as they entered our buildings and returned to the classroom for the first time in nearly six months.
Of course, we could not have made it through any of this without the trust, support and perseverance of our students and their families, who have closely adhered to our safety precautions, quarantined when necessary and demonstrated flexibility throughout the whole process. The past year has highlighted the importance of the family-school partnership, and we could not have done it without you. We know that the pandemic has had an effect on every family in one way or another, but the Niles community has responded with a level of grace and flexibility that we greatly appreciate and commend.
While the past year has been difficult, the future is bright. Through a partnership with the Berrien County Health Department, we were able to host two COVID-19 vaccine clinics for our teachers and staff. This is a huge step forward and a key piece to our mitigation strategy. We are excited to see what the remaining three months hold for our students, and we are diligently preparing for the challenges of next school year. As we prepare for the 2021-22 school year, our enrollment is open, including kindergarten enrollment for the class of 2034. I would invite those interested in enrolling at Niles Community Schools to visit our website for more information.
As always, we are grateful for the community’s support of our schools. As a district, we will uphold our unwavering commitment to the children of Niles, continuing to provide a safe place to learn, play and grow. Thank you, and Go Vikes!
Dr. Dan Applegate is the superintendent of Niles Community Schools.