These Southern Students are practicing social distancing and following COVID guidelines as Ian Wise of the Racine Volunteer Fire Department speaks on the high points of fire prevention and fire safety. Generally, larger groups would be outside for the presentation, however, with the pandemic in full force, smaller groups went through a cycle to observe the day. Submitted photo.

Southern Remains Optimistic in the Midst of Educating during Pandemic

RACINE, Ohio – Despite some obvious hurdles in these trying times, the Southern Local School District has many positive things going on in the district during the 2020-2021 school year. 

Southern Principal Daniel Otto said, “Kids were anxious to get back to school. In a not so normal atmosphere, we wanted to make this year as normal as possible and keep kids engaged.”

“We all lost some ground last spring and felt that we needed to get students back in the classroom safely. We also understand that some families had concerns about the pandemic and we wanted to be able to serve kids safely at home as well.”

Elementary Principal Tricia McNickle said, “Students, especially the little ones, were anxious to return after being out of school for almost six months, and were happy to see their friends and staff.” 

McNickle follows the postal motto that neither rain, nor snow nor sleet will stop her from greeting students at the front door every morning. 

“It’s amazing,” says administrator Scott Wolfe, “She knows every single kid by name even when they are wearing a mask. You can see the smile in the student’s eyes.”

The Pandemic has changed everything about education except students can still get that personal touch of on campus learning. Here some students are up in the lab doing their lab work, while others are seating preparing for their time doing an experiment. Normally, the whole class would be up for the hands-on learning, but in this case social distancing is the rule of the day. Submitted photo.

Covid-19 Pandemic guidelines are being observed and teaching both ‘in-person, on-site’ and ‘remote’ learning opportunities are in progress. Southern has about 70 percent of its students on campus and about 30 percent doing remote learning. Families had to commit to doing the first semester online in order to allow for the school to observe the recommended social distancing guidelines with a smaller population of on-campus students.

The smaller student population enabled Southern to meet six-foot social distancing recommendations in classrooms. Student temperatures are checked each morning before students can enter the building or bus, and rooms and restrooms are sanitized after each class and class change. Everyone is required to wear a mask as part of the state’s requirements in the opening of school guidelines.

Southern was one of the first schools statewide to start the year going five days a week. 

The school recently received a new bus, a 2020 Thomasbuilt bus; and recently received recognition for its breakfast and feeding programs. Southern currently feeds 420-460 on-campus students and another 75-100 remote learners daily. Both breakfast and lunch are taken to the classrooms Pre-school through 6th grade, while 7-12 students are eating with social distancing in the gym, cafeteria, and classrooms.

Here Southern cooks prepare meals both for kids in class and for take home. Pam Humphrey, left, and Sheila Theiss, center help Susie Karr prepare the take-home meals. Karr works every Monday to see that Southern remote learners get meals for the week. Pick-up time is Monday from 4-6 behind the school. Students on campus in the lower grades have meals taken to the classroom. Submitted photo.

McNickle added, “Students have adjusted to eating in the classrooms and having their specials and recess combined. Whatever the pitfalls, staff and students have been making it work in a good way. Everyone is doing their part.”

Additionally, Southern has a weekend backpack program, where up to 100 backpacks of food are sent to homes for the weekend. McNickle oversees this program which is funded through donations and grant money. 

A COVID-19 grant allowed the school to purchase computers and Chromebooks for its online learners, and a second wave allowed the school to purchase Chromebooks for on-campus students as well.

School officials cited the main pitfalls realized this school year were the back orders on the computers, and back orders on cleaning and sanitizing supplies. Computers were ordered in early July and the first ones to arrive did not come in until a week ago. 

Elementary students at the school observed Fire Safety Week and Bus Safety Week.  Smaller groups than normal were channeled to several stations that the Racine Volunteer Fire Department hosted. Students were able to participate in various activities and learn what to do in the case of a fire. 

Efforts of the staff and Principals Daniel Otto and Tricia McNickle allowed for a down-sized version of Homecoming.  It seemed inevitable that the annual event-a big deal in a small community–might not happen. A lot of planning and extra work went into making this special event happen.