What a school year

No doubt everyone involved with education in the region breathed a big sigh of relief when the 2020-21 school year came to an end.
Yuma School District-1, as well as nearly all districts in the area, went from start to finish with in-person instruction while dealing with all the issues of COVID-19.
“It was a hard year, but the fact we did stay in-person, we don’t see the extreme learning loss we might have seen if we had been remote all year,” Yuma-1 Superintendent Dianna Chrisman said.
The pandemic hit the region in mid-March 2020, forcing all schools into remote learning for the rest of the school year.
All four Yuma County school districts, in conjunction with the Northeast Colorado Health Department and Yuma County COVID-19 Task Force, spent last summer on a return-to-school plan. It contained an incredible amount of details and protocols — such as temperature checks when entering the schools, wearing masks, the use of cohorts as much as possible, as well as social distancing when applicable, and Yuma even served lunch to the younger kids in the classroom to maintain the cohort grouping. The custodial staff was tasked with extra disinfecting practices.
Yuma-1 also was able, thanks to extra funding, purchase enough Chromebooks for each student, so all could do remote learning if necessary.
Unfortunately, nearly all area schools ended up having to deal with sending students, and staff, home for quarantine due to positive cases.
The first instance hit Yuma in mid-September, impacting Yuma High School and, to a lesser extent, Morris Elementary School.
YHS sent everyone home for two days while working out the contact tracing, quarantine, and setting up the remote learning.
School resumed the following Monday, but a high percentage had to stay on remote learning for two weeks, as did a classroom at MES.
It was late September when the Yuma-1 Board of Education held a special meeting in the YHS Auditorium, during which parents and students voiced their concerns and frustrations.
However, everyone kind of settled into the reality of keeping the schools open.
The amount of people impacted by a positive case also evolved as the school year progressed. Health department protocols allowed for those who had to go into quarantine became more precise, reducing the number who had to remote learning in the event of a positive case.
Things were changing so often in regards to protocols, Chrisman said, that the district stopped trying to predict what would happen. “We got to the point where we just had to react to the changes that came,” she said.
“I was proud we were able to stay open except for the couple of days of shutdown,” Chrisman said. “Being able to keep in-person instruction was a big success.”
The mask mandate obviously was controversial. However, Yuma-1, and other area districts, strictly adhered to it from start to finish.
“The students for the most part complied with the masks,” Chrisman said. “No one likes wearing a mask, but they realized if they wanted the activities and such, they were going to have to wear them.”
She also noted that, looking back, there were not any illness outbreaks of any kind in any of the Yuma schools this past school year.
Teachers at time were forced to do their jobs from home, but for the most part everyone was able to stay in school. Some sports teams at the high school and middle school were impacted by positive cases and the accompanying quarantining, but all teams were able to finish their seasons.
As mentioned above, staying in-person was a huge boost to the students’ education, minimizing the negative impact of remote learning. Chrisman also noted it also was big in regards to students’ emotional well-being, their ability to socialize and be with friends.
Yuma-1 was able to finish out the school year without any incidences in the last months. The parents and students worked together for a run prom, YMS had an outdoor promotion, and the weather also cooperated for a perfect outdoor graduation for the YHS Class of 2021.
“All staff, all the the departments, made significant changes that were imperative to get through last year,” Chrisman said.
She shared that she was visiting with the YHS staff after the school year about what if someone had told them they would have had to do, and go through, all they have since March 2020.
“No one would have believed it could have been done, but we made it,” Chrisman said.
While the COVID impact currently is lessening in Yuma County and throughout the region, now the upcoming school year is approached remains to be seen. If the current trend continues, the hope is to return to “normal” procedures for the most part, though Chrisman said some practices, such as increased disinfecting, will continue.
While what the situation will be when Yuma schools return to class in September, Chrisman said she hopes at least there can be more local control. She noted the area districts had their plans in place last year, but those ended up being superseded in some instances by state mandates.
“I’m really hopeful we’re not at the level of mandates that we had last year,” Chrisman said. “I am hopeful we can take recommendations and make our own decisions, have more local control.”
That will all sort itself out in the coming months. For now, one can at least celebrate their kids got to stay in school all year, despite the various issues and hassles.
“It feels like an eternity,” Chrisman said. “To say it was exhausting is an understatement.
“It’s a year I never want to repeat.”