By Carol Stiffler

Students, sharpen your pencils.

School is back in session on Tuesday, September 8, and will see young learners reunited in classrooms again.

That is, unless they will be online learners who will be studying from home. In either case, attendance will be taken, and the academic year will be underway.

At the district level, a lot of things happened to make in-person schooling possible during the ongoing pandemic. The district did copious amounts of cleaning, purchased foggers to disinfect enclosed spaces, bought gallons of hand sanitizers, and has plans in place in case it all falls through.

Tahquamenon Area Schools Superintendent and High School Principal Stacy Price said her district is as ready as it can be.

“There are countless hours that administration and the building and district network teams have worked to make sure that as much as possible was figured out,” she said. “We laugh now because just when we think we have it all, something else comes up that we need to think about or tweak.”

Price found it encouraging that 84% of parents chose to send their children back to in-person learning.

“I am encouraged that families are doing what is best for them, whether that be in-person at the school or TAS Virtual, where they are at home,” she said. “I believe providing a choice has eased some of the anxiety and fear that was out there.”

In Engadine, Superintendent Josh Reed said his district has 85 distance learners, and every student will be using the school’s standard curriculum regardless where they are.

“Distance learners will be joining class live via video whenever possible,” Reed said. “This should helpfully bridge the gap between online and in-person classes.”

Reed is already expecting the unexpected.

“I think the one thing we can all learn regarding Coronavirus is that there is never certainty during a pandemic,” he said. “The best we can do is make choices with as much information as possible. We will constantly reassess our plans to make sure our operations are responsive to the moment.”

That will require working closely with the health department, which districts are prepared to do.

Price says she enjoys challenges, but COVID-19 has been one of the biggest professional challenges she’s ever faced. She asks the community to be patient and flexible during this school year.

“Patience because things will be different and probably take more time until we get going,” she said. “Patience for where people are in this whole situation. Patience for helping each other adjust.”

Flexibility will be necessary, too, with new technology and changes and the potential that students will shift back and forth from school to home and back again during the year.

Despite the challenges, the local districts are eager to be running again. Rachel Bommarito, superintendent and principal at Three Lakes Academy in Curtis is ready.

“I know I speak for the entire staff when we say that we cannot wait to see our students’ faces again,” she said. “We need to play catch up every year with students, and my teachers do an excellent job of meeting kids where they are. There are a variety of challenges that come with this school year, but we are excited to tackle them!”