Amazing Efforts by HCS Staff

Teachers, administrators, step up in an unprecedented time to collaborate and deliver eLearning opportunities for students.
I am very lucky and proud. It’s absolutely amazing that these professionals shifted gears on a dime. We set expectations as a school district and teachers/associates went well beyond those expectations. -- Jeff Moser, HCS Elementary Schools Principal

HARLAN – Teachers, staff and administration of the Harlan Community Schools crossed the finish line of the 2019-20 academic year last week, walking away with a gold medal for their efforts to keep their students safe, healthy and engaged in voluntary learning during this unprecedented time dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
    As he watched his staff hand back students’ collected belongings during a socially-distanced, drive-through event last week at the elementary schools, principal Jeff Moser took a moment to reflect on the last two months and the pride he feels about team members who accomplished astonishing things for the students.
    “I am very lucky and proud,” Moser said.  “It’s absolutely amazing that these professionals shifted gears on a dime.  We set expectations as a school district and teachers/associates went well beyond those expectations.”
    On March 17, Harlan Community Schools joined districts from across Iowa and closed its doors.  From that day forward, goals were put in place to provide the best possible voluntary learning program for the district’s students for the remainder of the academic year, while also making sure students and families were safe and secure.
    At the elementary schools, the goal was two-fold – first, to connect with students and families in order to help with social/emotional aspects of being quarantined.  “This is a tough time for our kiddos, so we want them to feel safe and at least some sort of normalcy,” Moser said.  Second – to provide students with learning activities with the idea of minimizing the learning gap that was created by not being in school.

Numerous programs
    Over the past two months, staff have been planning lessons and activities on a weekly basis that are either taught to the students or sent to them electronically.  Teachers have been “zooming” with students in order to have class meetings or deliver instruction as well.
    The Zoom meetings were as effective as they could be.  “Electronic learning is very, very difficult, but teachers and students have done a wonderful job,” said Moser. “We are continuing to research best practices in this area in preparation for the possibility of future quarantines.”
    Grade-level teams and department teams met regularly utilizing Zoom to discuss strategies in order to help students who are struggling, and many teachers have delivered learning items to homes.  Some provided small group learning – for example math lessons for those who may have been struggling and were interested in extra help.
    Two weeks ago, elementary staff walked in to the buildings for the first time in a month and a half.  Because schools were shut down so quickly, student belongings were left in classroom desks and lockers, so teachers and associates packed up the items and organized them for pickup.
    Staff has been handing out or delivering lunches for the food program.  They worked the entire month of May on curriculum development, writing assessments and updating pacing guides.  
    They participated in professional development that was originally scheduled for fall, including training from Boys Town on a new behavior initiative implementation scheduled for next year.
    They’ve videotaped themselves reading books or providing lessons, something the students really seemed to enjoy.
    HCS Superintendent of Schools Lynn Johnson has high praise for the staff in all buildings.  “I feel like our teachers have done an exceptionally good job,” she said, “of meeting the needs of all of our learners.  They’ve really stretched their ceilings and have done some phenomenal things.”

Parent/student support
    Erin Hudson, Harlan, said the district’s efforts have been outstanding.  Her children, Georgia and Sawyer, have taken advantage of all being provided at the elementary level.
    “The teachers have been wonderful and I can say personally I have appreciated them immensely and have a huge respect for their time, commitment and dedication,” Hudson said.  “Teachers have gone above and beyond and all of us parents at the elementary school should be so appreciative.”
    Georgia and Sawyer have both called and talked with their teachers on the phone with questions, Erin has texted them numerous times, the kids have shared pictures via email and text and have emailed, sometimes after hours.  “They have responded no matter how early, no matter how late,” Hudson said.
    “They have sent me passwords and links when we misplace them.  They have been super understanding as we have handed in assignments late and worked behind due to a variety of circumstances,” said Hudson.  The teachers stressed to do what you can, as during this time it’s just a continuous building of things already learned, she said.
    Hudson said she sees how this shutdown has affected the teachers as well.  “I know they have been emotional, heartbroken and have a huge love for the kids,” she said. “They have been affected by this as much as anyone else, if not more so.”
    She could see how the teachers put much work into assignments that were creative and interesting – such as programs about pirates or a week of assignments on planning a vacation, as well as creative writing assignments and YouTube learning videos.

Back at it in August
    As of now, the plan is to start school on Monday, August 24, as approved by the HCS Board of Education.  Moser said the district is working on a Return to Learn plan as mandated by the state.
    “This is of critical importance as we move into returning to school next fall,” he said.  “A1 priority is identifying standards and concepts that students didn’t learn this spring because of our shutdown.  Teachers have identified all these concepts and designed a plan to insure that students will learn all essential curriculum next year.”
    He said the leadership team, instructional coaches and interventionists are all working to put ‘safety nets’ in place so that all kids will be right back on track when the pandemic is over.  A schedule is being created that will allow the district to capture the learning of the current year while simultaneously filling in what was missed in the spring.
    For parents summer is great, but returning to school will be wonderful for the kids.  Hudson said Georgia and Sawyer have missed their friends and teachers.
    “The kids are excited for school to be back to normal come this fall,” Hudson said.  “They are excited to see their friends.  They are excited to be in the lunchroom and on the playground.  They miss their specials, such as art, music and guidance, and the structure of a classroom and interaction with the teacher.
    “And I am excited for them,” she added.  “I am excited as they will get to celebrate holidays and dress up and their love of Harlan Cyclones apparel on Football Fridays this fall.”


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