BRIDGMAN — The first half-day of school in the Bridgman and River Valley districts took place Monday, Aug. 31.
Bridgman Superintendent Shane Peters talked about opening day during an Aug. 31 joint meeting of the Bridgman City Council and the Lake Charter Township Board.
“We’re excited, the kids are excited. It was a long five and a half months without anybody in our building, It was good to (hear) laughter,” he said. “I just think we’re on the road to getting back to normal.”
Peters said there was anxiety and apprehension, but also smiles and readiness to get back to learning.
“Over the last six months we have every day worked diligently to make this a safe re-entry for both our staff and for our students,” he said. “Today was a wonderful first day back.”
Peters said he feels it’s vitally important both educationally and socially and emotionally for students to be in school.
He said the Bridgman district’s back-to-school plan is about 187 pages long and can be viewed on their website. He said the district is strictly following the state’s phase four guidelines and will maintain the same course of action if phase five is declared.
Peters said the Bridgman Schools are offering two options for its students — face-to-face in school and a virtual option (through the neighboring Lakeshore District).
“We have about 105 kids taking advantage of the virtual option, and about 870 kids participating in the face-to-face option,” he said.
Peters said during the 22 weeks that the district has provided food to area families 206,000 meals were provided.
“It was a huge, huge endeavor from our food service staff, our food service director and our district and building administrators.”
On March 13 when it was announced that the school buildings would be closed, Peters said “our staff kicked it into gear, and we were one of the few districts in Southwest Michigan that had already created a pandemic plan.”
Peters noted that there are currently no plans to open the Bridgman Aquatic Center (located at the high school) to the public in the near future.
“We have our hands full right now dealing with our staff and our students,” he said.
The River Valley School District’s Facebook page included the following post on Aug. 31 — “We had a fantastic first day at Chikaming today! Seeing students today sure did fill our buckets! We’ve decided we’re going to make 2020-21 the #bestyearyet !”
The post also reminded parents that masks are required on buses and for all escorts and students walking to main doors and that no visitors allowed in the buildings at this time.
River Valley Middle/High School students are beginning the school year virtually before most begin in-class study next week.
“We are streaming our classrooms live to our students so our plan is flexible no matter what phase we are in as a state,” said River Valley Middle/High School Principal Patrick Breen. “We have a virtual schedule for when all students are learning remotely and are ‘phasing in’ by having all students begin virtually the first week and then we open our doors next week (Sept. 8) for in-person learning. When in-person learning begins, we will continue to stream our classrooms live for students that opted for the virtual option.
He said approximately about 17 percent of middle/high school students will be remaining virtual for the first semester.
“We had a great start and are excited to open our doors next week!” Breen concluded.
The New Buffalo Area Schools opened the 2020-2021 year with a half-day on Tuesday, Sept. 8.
"It was really a great start of the year," noted Superintendent Dr. Jeff Leslie.
Because the district cannot serve breakfast in its cafeterias due to COVID, he said students are getting picked up from their homes later than in the past and some thought they had missed the bus (Leslie noted that bus pick-up times are in Power School which not everyone is back in the habit of checking yet).
Leslie said the district is opening the secondary building at 8 a.m. this school year (it had been 7:40 a.m. in the past) and opening the elementary school at 8:10 a.m.
In addition to posting photos from the first day of school, the New Buffalo Elementary Facebook page shared the following message — It has been a great first day!!! We are so excited to be back in school!
As a result of a partnership between the Michigan Department of Education, the Michigan Community Service Commission and the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators, Berrien RESA will provide thousands of face coverings to students across Berrien County.
“Through our relationship with multiple state departments and associations, we were able to request additional health and safety resources to benefit schools in Berrien County,” said Superintendent Eric Hoppstock. “This week, Berrien RESA applied for 18,500 KN90 masks for students.”
The masks will be delivered to Berrien RESA, where they will then be distributed to local school districts based on anticipated need.
“All of Berrien County’s school districts have purchased face coverings and other personal protection materials to support a safe return to school,” Hoppstock said. “The masks being provided through the state will supplement their current supply and help reduce expenses as districts replenish their stock throughout the school year.”
The KN90 masks are being procured on behalf of partnering agencies by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Michigan State Police. They are expected to arrive at Berrien RESA for distribution early this fall. Hoppstock said the masks could arrive as early as the end of this week.
He said the state is providing the masks to any at-risk schools in the state. Those schools were decided by the number of free and reduced lunches.
“This goes back to when Gov. Whitmer amassed all the PPE equipment for the health care workers. They were looking in their warehouses and noticed a stockpile of supplies,” Hoppstock said. “A couple weeks ago. The opportunity came up and we put our hand up.”
— Tony Wittkowski contributed to this report