Wednesday, August 26, 2009

First Day of School Care Package and H1N1

Having young children in elementary school and a wife who teaches kindergarten, you tend to notice trends quicker. Some time in the past couple of years, it was determined that elementary teachers providing care packages on the first day of school for students was essential.

Not sure what a care package is? It usually is a brown paper bag filled with odds and ends like a lifesaver, an eraser, or a piece of gum. The trifles themselves aren't important; it's the symbolic significance of each. The lifesaver lets the student know there will always be help available, the eraser lets them know it is okay to make mistakes, and the piece of gum helps remind them to "stick" to it, even when challenged.

Full disclosure: I did not teach at the elementary level and have never been mistaken for a warm fuzzy kind of guy. But, while this simple (note that I avoided the word "cheesy") gesture is lost on me, my kids and my wife seem to like it a lot.

Much more cheerful than receiving an emergency kit for H1N1.

But given reports that Swine Flu could infect half (half?!?) of the United States, your school better have one of those, too. And as Marshalltown CSD can attest, when the crisis hits, its not just as simple as calling school off.

ASCD has some good directions on where to get started:

From Nashville to New York, schools seem to be taking to heart new guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designed to curb the spread of the flu while minimizing disruptions to learning. They're educating students about proper hygiene, communicating to parents the importance of keeping their sick children at home at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever, and making preparations to separate ill students and staff or selectively close schools with high-risk populations should the need arise.

For school nurses and educators (as well as the general public), the government has set up to disseminate information.

ASCD goes on to mention that what is most crucial is a contingency plan, which can be difficult for schools to do in the face of such uncertainty:

A couple of anecdotes demonstrate the possibilities. According to a Baltimore Sun article, Maryland's Anne Arundel County Public Schools has prepared contingency plans in case schools are closed. Over the summer, officials considered how they could offer homework assignments or teach online. The Los Angeles Times reports that Los Angeles Unified School District is contemplating various methods of continuing children's education by delivering lessons and instructions through public-access television, automated phone calls, the Internet, and the mail.

I recently visited with an official from Des Moines Public School about this very topic. Using technology, be it Moodle, Google Docs, or even a system of email, can help continue instruction even if students are not physically able to meet. The problem of course is the breakup of instruction. While Moodle could offer schools the best home-bound instructional model, almost universally in Iowa, teachers are unprepared for how to teach at a distance with Moodle. That would be a long-range plan at best.

3 Resources for Administrators to Help with Contingency Plans
  1. Start with the Department of Education's resources, including their recommendations.
  2. The federal government has also provided a communications toolkit for K-12 schools (pdf). This gives you sample language and steps to follow to keep your community informed.
  3. Meet with your technology staff, your AEA educational technologists, and/or (at Heartland) me about looking at technological possibilities to conduct home-bound education.

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