We believe our schools are the heartbeat of the community. A global pandemic dealt a hand few of us would expect, and required our schools to adopt new and innovative learning models over the course of the year. As we reflect upon the challenges we have worked to collectively overcome, we cannot help but feel a deep sense of pride for our community’s strength and resilience. Whether during remote, hybrid, or in-person learning – our teachers, students, staff, and community members have kept our Lyons heartbeat going strong.
This time last year, our entire school system pivoted within a two-week period to go from fully in-person to fully online. Our teachers’ incredible work ethic, adaptability, and passion for our students’ success made this shift possible. Throughout this time principals and teachers worked in conjunction with St. Vrain leaders and numerous state and county health agencies to draft and revise plans focusing on the promotion of student and teacher safety and learning. We also worked at the local level to balance school needs with parent and family hardship.
Ultimately, our plans grew and changed as State and County policies evolved, responding to various data sets, including rates of infection and transmission. Similarly, as more and more data was collected about ways in which COVID-19 spread and moved through communities, our approach to social distancing and contact tracing became more informed and targeted. The context continued to change over the course of the spring, summer, fall, and winter seasons, and our goal was to adapt to the variables, and straddle the gap between preparedness and responsiveness. What never changed was a reinforced understanding of the role the schools play in the oversight and support of health in a school-based environment.
To support families, we worked to balance in person and online schedules. Our school district rolled out student iPads, first to every family, then to every student in our system. Wifi hotspots were set up throughout the school district, and the federal government provided free meals to families every school day (with extra food on Friday for the weekend). For students who needed a fully online environment for the duration of the year, St. Vrain expanded online opportunities to create a fully virtual school, LaunchEd. It was an incredible feat to mobilize learning delivery through new technologies, and our District was poised to do so in large part because our constituents passed a Mill Levy in 2012, and our teachers have been involved in robust professional development along the way, preparing our entire team for this unforeseen challenge.
In the fall, we worked together to maintain a safer school environment and bring our students back to in-person learning in a hybrid model. Students attended in person two days a week, and attended remotely three days. This was a huge boost to morale. We saw ourselves on the frontline, reaching students with equal urgency, and now in direct proximity. Having access to students in person enhanced our relationships and a shared sense of accountability. We overhauled most of our building procedures to ensure our students could maintain social distance throughout the learning day, including the lunch hour. Our community’s trust that we would introduce protocols to keep everyone safe and healthy allowed them to feel safe in sending their kids to the reopened schools.
The high school athletes and coaches learned to understand how to compete while still maintaining social distance and staying safe. The Colorado High School Athletics Association implemented shortened seasons that still gave our student athletes the opportunity to compete in the sports they loved. We successfully competed in softball, cross country, football, wrestling, cheerleading, girls and boys basketball, and our end-of-year schedule includes volleyball and track and field. Our students have relished in the chance to experience some normalcy through these extra-curricular opportunities.
In January, elementary school students were able to return to full time, in-person, Monday – Thursdays. The middle school and high school are now set to return to in-person learning after spring break, one full year after we first went into lockdown. Over the past year, everyone in our school buildings has learned the importance of adaptability. We are proud of how willing our students have been to adjust in order to be safe and enjoy school. Change is never easy. Our students’ resilience in the face of adversity has been a leading example for us all.
We have all learned so much. We’ve paired new technical skills with an intense focus on core components of best practices in teaching. We have learned that we can effectively communicate remotely. We’ve learned to release students to work independently, providing them with open ended tasks that allow for greater student autonomy. We’ve noticed that accountability means different things for different students, and our gratitude for the role that parents play in students’ education has certainly increased.
Also, we’ve had to balance the desire to help students become more independent, while also recognizing that so much learning occurs socially. To accomplish these two tasks, we learned to leverage technology to provide opportunities for students to interact with one another remotely. Sometimes, we had students at home collaborate virtually with students at school. This allowed us to maintain social distancing protocols in person, while providing a valuable opportunity for students at home to maintain connection with those at school.
We are so grateful to everyone in our community throughout the pandemic. Our strong relationships among our students, teachers, staff, and families have created an unbreakable support network that has carried us all. We have learned that together, there is nothing we can not overcome.
Andrea Smith and Andrew Moore
==Andrea Smith, Ed.D.
Principal, Lyons Middle/Senior High School
Principal, Lyons Elementary School