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HNS preparing for winter activities in a COVID-19 world

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HARTINGTON — At the end of each school day, Hartington-Newcastle Supt. A.J. Johnson gleefully puts a big black mark through the calendar.

“We completed Day 40 today,” he told HNS School Board members at Monday’s meeting. “If we can get through Day 44, we will have completed the first quarter in school. Making it through the first quarter will be something to celebrate.”

After the pandemic hit last March wiping out the final quarter of the regular school year, Johnson is happy every time the final bell of the day rings, and students begin to stream into the halls.

“I’m proud we’ve been able to stay in school. The custodians, the staff, teachers and the kids have all worked very hard to make that happen,” Johnson said.

The pandemic and protocals to help keep students in school during the upcoming winter activities season dominated discussion at Monday’s regular Hartington-Newcastle School Board meeting.

School policies on sanitizing, social distancing, and masks have helped the school keep the number of COVID cases to a minimum here.

Having to do the entire fourth quarter in a remote learning mode took a toll on students and teachers.

Elementary School Principal Sarah Edwards feels most students have now met the standard for the education they may have missed last year because of distance learning

“The teachers are finally breathing a sigh of relief. They are saying, ‘ok, we are back where we need to be now,’” Edwards told the Board.

Edwards said the teachers and para-professinals have been working hard to gain ground this quarter after losing so much in-school learning last year.

“I have to say ‘thank you’ for the hard work of all of our paras,” she told the Board. “We would not be as far along as we are without them. They have participated in training and have worked hard with teachers to provide interventions for our students.”

Edwards also thanked the School Board for giving the school the financial support to hire more para-professionals to help meet the needs of the students this year.

The teachers and students have migrated to a new learning environment in case remote learning will need to be utilized again some time in the future. Last year, the school relied quite a bit on the Zoom platform, which allowed students to interact with their classmates and the teacher all at the same time.

This year, the SeeSaw platform is being utilized, Edwards said. This is a much more versatile way to communicate, she said.

“It is an easy way to get students’ work to them, and back to us,” she said.

Johnson said the school will need to stay vigilant as they transition from the fall activities season to the winter activiities season.

He noted that the Nebraska School Activities Association has come up with guidelines they recommend schools follow during the post-season tournaments that have already begun. This includes masks for fans at indoor activities and at outdoor activities if proper social distancing cannot be attained.

The school will follow those guidelines, he said. Johnson said one good thing that has come out of the pandemic is the fact that area school administrators are now working together better. Area Superintendents continue to meet once a week on a Zoom meeting to discuss issues and ideas.

“It’s been a good experience the way we have been working together. We can bounce ideas off of each other like, ‘hey this is coming up, how would you handle this, or how would you handle that,’” Johnson said.

Johnson said special plans will also need to be made for other winter events, such as the annual Christmas concerts.

“We will have to really think about some of the activities’ protocols,” he said. “Christmas concerts, and One-Act will all present their own unique challenges.”

Johnson said the elementary school Christmas concert will definitely have to see some changes this year because of the large crowds it typically draws into the school.

He said the school is working on getting the rights to stream some of the music performances so some family members can enjoy the concert without having to be in attendance.

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