For Kent Innovation High Principal Jeff Bush, the first week with its wearing of masks, social distancing and added safety protocols was unusual, but “it went pretty well,” he said.
“The biggest thing is just how grateful people are to be back in school,” Bush said after the program opened Aug. 26. “It is great to see the students, for the students to see each other and for the teachers to see the students.”
With all 20 Kent County public school districts now up and running, each with its own back-to-school plan, Kent ISD also has fashioned plans for its several programs that serve those districts. Programs include the Kent Career Tech Center, Kent Innovation High, Kent Transition Center, MySchool@Kent, Launch U, Special Education Center Programs and the Great Start Readiness preschool program.
Kent ISD Superintendent Ron Caniff has worked with local districts and Kent ISD staff to help get schools and programs ready for the school year, while also handling continual changes to federal and state guidelines related to the coronavirus pandemic. Staff of the ISD staff created return-to-school plans for its programs as well as for adult education.
Many programs such as Kent Innovation High, MySchool@Kent, Launch U, adult education and the Special Education Center-based Programs (except for Kent Transition Center) will offer in-person instruction while the county remains in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s MI Safe Start phases 4-5, with distance learning available for any student who is not able to attend in-person.
Bush said about 80 percent of the KIH students chose to return to in-person classes, while about 20 percent opted for distance learning.
Virtual classes are asynchronous — instruction is pre-recorded for students to watch on their own time, similar to the learning method of MySchool@Kent. Students who opt to take virtual classes also are provided with supplemental project-based learning activities similar to those offered via in-person classes.
One challenge was aligning Kent ISD campus-based programs to what various school districts would be doing to start the year, as plans varied. It was determined that programs of the Kent Career Tech Center and the Kent Transition Center would remain as in-person instruction. There is a virtual offering for KTC students who are unable to attend for a short period of time, but some career training cannot be delivered virtually.
“It is very hard to teach hands-on in a virtual setting,” Caniff said. However, if the region returns to phases 1-3, then both programs would offer virtual learning.
Tech Center programs are electives, and Caniff said students unable to attend in person can work with their school for alternatives. Busing to the Tech Center is being provided by the individual districts, he said.
Last fall marked completion of the transition of center-based special education programs from Grand Rapids Public Schools to Kent ISD. Located in 16 different buildings, the nine center-based programs serve students ages 3 to 26 who have severe physical impairments and learning disabilities that prevent them from attending regular K-12 schools.
Seven months after the transition, special education staff worked to deliver learning virtually as the pandemic forced school buildings to shut down.
This year about 65 percent of special education students have begun the year attending in person, with about 35 percent learning virtually.
“We know a lot more now than we did on March 13,” said Paul Dymowski, director of Special Education Center Programs. “We are always improving and trying to build a better virtual experience.”
Great Start Readiness Program Starts Sept. 14
Due to low enrollment, the Great Start Readiness Program has reduced the number of classes from 69 to 49. The state-funded, free preschool program for 4-year-olds is set to open Sept. 14.
Great Start Readiness is overseen Kent ISD Early Childhood Education, as is Bright Beginnings, Early On and Help Me Grow Kent. All three programs have adjusted to virtual offerings.