With the school year beginning to wind down as we enter into spring, it’s time to take stock of just how well we served our kids this year.
As you well know, most of America’s schools were forced into mask mandates, social distancing, and round after round of virtual learning. Some never even went back to in-person learning at all.
And what has it done for our youth? Have they thrived? Have they learned all that they were supposed to? Has their education met their social needs?
For most of the nation, I don’t think there’s a parent who could honestly answer yes to any of those questions – at least not if they are considering what their child actually needs.
But for one school, at least, that’s not the case.
Enter the Peaster Independent School District in North Texas.
Like most of the nation, the 2019-2020 school year ended early and with most students participating in some form of virtual learning.
However, unlike the rest of the nation, when the 2020-2021 school year began, the community decided that they wouldn’t follow that trend.
According to KTVT-TV, the school year started as scheduled with complete in-person learning. Students were never mandated to wear masks, never made to social distance, and were allowed to participate in sports and extracurricular activities without restriction.
And yet, per Superintendent Lance Johnson, the entire district had higher enrollment and average attendance rates than the previous year.
In a recent interview, Johnson said, “Our kids thrived and our teachers have thrived. And it’s just been real eye-opening to see how we’ve done things differently than other schools.”
Now, the district is a relatively rural one, boasting a student population of around 1,400. However, as far as day-to-day scheduling goes, it’s no different than any other public school.
So how did they do it?
Well, to that question, which Johnson has no doubt been asked a lot by now, he says, “It’s real simple. We’ve just done it. It’s not that difficult if you really put the needs of the kids first.”
And that’s the kicker, isn’t it?
Here you have a school that could have been like any other, requiring students to sit at home with a laptop or computer and expected to learn, as usual, cut off from friends, teachers who push them to do their best, and experiences that will guide them through the rest of their lives. But instead, the community decided to risk the perceived dangers the media touts and put their kids’ education and social needs first.
According to Johnson, nearing the beginning of the school year, both parents and students were asked how they felt about returning to school and what that would look like after seeing a taste the previous year of virtual learning.
Fifty-five percent of all families said they felt comfortable sending kids to in-person learning if masks and social distancing were required in all grades. However, that number rose to 86 percent when the school noted that their education would be as close to pre-pandemic as it could be.
And so, the kids went to school, in person and on time in August.
Johnson says that at the beginning, most students voluntarily wore a mask. If they didn’t, according to HIPA rules, it was assumed they either had a medical or religious excuse. But as the year proceeded without incident, the number of students not wearing a mask increased gradually.
And remarkably, there was not one single COVID case in the school, among staff or students, until after the first ten weeks.
Then, as fall and colder weather set in, a few emerged. But as Johnson estimates, only around ten or so cases were ever reported. There could have been more, but Johnson and his staff have no knowledge of them if there were.
He reiterated that it was all due to the community, saying they “just stood in solidarity,” deciding to “do what’s best for kids. And what’s best for kids is having them in school, learning, in a traditional school model.”
So what has the rest of the nation been doing where our kids are concerned? It certainly hasn’t been putting them first, and this school is proof that it’s high time we started.