Westover, Pa. (WTAJ) — While the classrooms, hallways, and lockers are empty, the Harmony Area School District is gearing up for another year. But as you might imagine…it’s not easy.
“We were prepared to come back – in person until two days ago – that changed,” says Ken Jubas, superintendent, Harmony Area School District. He says for many students and parents – school is about more than education. “Academics are very important however, kids get their meals here, we have a breakfast program we have a lunch program…if we go online we’ll have to get the meals to the kids – how will kids get social interaction, kids need to be walking and talking with their friends. When we send our kids to school…we’re developing the whole child.”
Following state guidelines– Ken’s school will have to operate on a “hybrid model”– a so-called “AA and BB” schedule where half the students learn in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays– while the other group makes the trip on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will be used by teachers to make changes to their lessons– and staff to do deep cleaning. On the days kids aren’t physically there– school will be done virtually.
“I’m not an advocate for virtual learning, I don’t think that it offers the same rigor and quality education as our children being in a brick and mortar school, but we’ll do what we need to do to get through the virus.” says Sarah Teacher, Elementary School Teacher/Director of Special Education.
Although everyone might not agree with the school’s decisions–she says ultimately– it’s up to the state, “there’s typically some backlash from parents and community members who don’t like the mask wearing mandates or don’t like the social distancing or they’re either for or against the virtual learning or the hybrid option. a lot of parents just want things back to normal but we have to follow those mandates.”
And with constant changes, High School Principal Dan Martz understands that kids need a solid foundation to be successful, “if we start the school year and have a lot of disruptions this year in the vital point of September, October, November where a lot of key learning takes place that could be disruptive and I feel like a long term loss for students.”
Harmony is one of the smallest school districts in the state with a student body of 240. That might make social distancing easier– but living in a rural area has it’s own challenges– especially when it comes to internet access.
“Some of our kids had to go to different places to get access, parking lots of other schools Sheetz’ and here but the problem is district wide we have a pretty big gap of coverage being a rural area,” says Business Manager, Bradley Brothers.
They’re hoping to combat these problems using grants, but at the end of the day– their biggest challenge is being transparent.
“Its frustrating because if you don’t put anything out everyone’s frustrated that they’re not informed but if you do put anything out then it changes the next day and everybody’s confused, says Brothers.