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By Jodee Riordan
Board of Education President
The Lewiston-Porter Board of Education met this week for an extensive work session.
Before I report out on this work, I would like to update the community on efforts to return students to campus. As discussed earlier, the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) and New York State Education Department (NYSED) are reviewing some key elements of public health policy directly affecting school operations, specifically the mandatory 6 feet of distance rule in schools. There have been no definitive changes issued yet at the state level, and the Niagara County Department of Health confirmed guidance has not been amended regarding social distancing and/or requirements on barrier use at this time.
Lewiston-Porter must maintain 6 feet of distance at all times, barrier or no barrier. That said, the district continues to plan multiple scenarios to bring our students back full-time, five days per week, as soon as deemed possible.
Things can change very quickly, and when we are able, Lewiston-Porter will be prepared to safely return students for greater in-person learning. We remain optimistic that we will be able to do so this school year.
At Monday’s work session, representatives from the superintendent’s student advisory council shared their perspectives on education at Lewiston-Porter during the pandemic, from the closure on March 2020 to the present. The superintendent’s student advisory council is a group of 50 student leaders (grades 7-12) that meet three times per year to share concerns with Superintendent Paul Casseri and help guide district decision-making. Their presentation is traditionally a highlight of the board’s year, as it is an opportunity to hear directly from Lew-Port students as to their priorities – all the more important this year with the challenges we have faced.
Student presentations included:
•Rachel Del Castillo (grade 11), who presented on the “Challenges” Lew-Port students face. Staying motivated topped the list, along with learning retention. “We’re learning the material, yes ... but are we retaining the knowledge?” she asked.
Del Castillo outlined the challenges teachers face in prioritizing elements of the standard curriculum, and the need to focus on preparing for tests (select Regents exams will be required this year) at the expense of a full curricular experience. The lack of face-to-face time with teachers has also made it difficult to find help at times. She discussed the lack of social time at school, and that it has made it hard to stay close with friends. The pandemic has also limited opportunities for musicians and actors to perform, athletes to compete, and extracurricular clubs to meet – all contributing to a less-satisfying high school experience.
•Sarina Singh (grade 10) presented on the “Strengths.” As challenging as the past year has been, there have been positive aspects. She said students have learned independence, and the commitment to learning on their own. They have had the opportunity to learn about their own learning styles, what works best for them and how to employ these strategies. She said the use of technology and student/teacher innovation has been a positive aspect of the past year, and one that will benefit both students and teachers going forward.
“Virtual Mondays have been a positive experience. They offer teachers a chance for full recap of learning with the entire class,” she said of the weekly virtual learning day in the hybrid model. “Virtual snow days” are also a positive, as learning can now continue uninterrupted during inclement weather and families can plan those days off (now added to the calendar as recess days).
Singh also noted the closure/current learning models has pushed students to think and start planning for their own studies after high school.
•Katie Kremer (grade 11) spoke to the “Hopes” students have in terms of the last 10 weeks of 2020-21.
“We need to strike a balance with safety protocols and more in-person or face-to-face time,” she stated.
Kremer said there is a specific need for more in-person learning days to help prepare for Advanced Placement (AP), Regents and final exams. She expressed that students may benefit from retaining “Virtual Mondays” once they are able to return to campus full-time, providing an opportunity for transition and echoing the positive view students have.
She said students would like to see musical performances resume in the spring, noting they could move outside. Students also want to plan for a fuller prom and graduation experience for the Class of 2021, and a more traditional full school year experience for the Class of 2022. If possible, the Class of 2021 would like to see some of the traditional fall experiences that had to be canceled (like the powderpuff game) rescheduled for spring.
•“Looking forward” to the 2021-22 school year, Nathan Rhoads (grade 11) discussed student priorities. He said students are hopeful for a full reopening in September. This must include a review of curriculum and assessment of learning that took place in 2020-21 centered on remediation and review, and a focus on student social-emotional wellbeing.
Rhoads said students recommend bringing a full-time social worker to the middle school and high school (one at each building). Dr. Patricia Grupka, assistant superintendent for administrative services, confirmed this position is planned and budgeted for in 2021-22.
Rhoads also stressed the need to help get students back into good habits, explaining that sleep schedules and use of free time are pretty lax currently. A focus on teaching and improving time management skills would be important as students transition back.
He concluded with the hope to reestablish the traditional school events that Kremer spoke of – homecoming, powderpuff, the high school musical, concerts, prom and graduation.
The Board of Education then had an opportunity to ask questions and discuss with the students the key points of their presentation. We will take the recommendations and concerns of the SSAC into advisement as we continue with budget development and planning for the 2021-22 school year.
Next time, “In the Loop” will look at budget development and planning for a districtwide solar project as presented at Monday’s work session. You can watch the recording of the work session on the Lew-Port website (www.lew-port.com) or YouTube Channel.
The BOE will meet next Monday, March 22, and we encourage you to join us via Zoom. Meeting credentials are posted on the Lew-Port homepage.