Minnesota school of choice highlighted as ‘Back-to-School’ success story on U.S. Department of Education website

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE) has recently published a Reopening Schools Success Story website that highlights the work and “best practices” of education leaders to successfully and safely return students to in-person learning.

Written and submitted by parents, teachers, school officials, and community members, testimonials share “positive experience[s] bringing students back to school” at traditional public schools, charter schools, private schools, and religious schools across the country.

For parent Alise McGregor, her daughters’ return to in-person learning at Providence Academy in Plymouth, Minnesota offered a “sense of normalcy.” Read her story below.

Each morning I am reminded that children are adaptable. As they grab their masks on the way out of the door, there are still so many familiar things experienced at school this year. Their friends, the community, the curriculum, the faculty, and even the food!

Back to school looked different for everyone this year. My daughters are at unique ages with specific desires relating to their school experience. My teenager could not wait to get back to school, see her friends, and get back what she needed to fill her bucket. My younger daughter was a little more hesitant about what school would look like and shared concerns about returning to school. As a family, we knew we desired to be back in person this Fall, but unsure what the educational experience would be.

Once the girls received their orientation information, the unknowns began to fade slowly. The assurance that soon things would feel more normal overtook the uneasy unknowns. Patience was going to be the virtue of the school year. Patience, with everyone, as we navigated this new normal. In years past, orientation was when we would reunite with friends that we had not seen over the summer, but this year was different. We had 15-minute time slots to meet the teachers, find the locker, and ease any uncertainty before the first day. It was a constant reminder of the desire to be back in person and patience as the administration laid out procedures.

The school faculty thought of many details, such as how lunches would be offered, how the children would be socially distanced, and how recess would be experienced. Water fountains are not available, so the girls bring water bottles daily. Everything was presented with clear communication, which, especially this year, we all needed. Everyone wears masks, and again with patience, we understood this year is about safely going to school. The first day of school has always been a day filled with love and enthusiasm with a red-carpet arrival. We wondered how that would work. With specific arrival times, we were allowed to participate, and a twist of safety was sprinkled on each aspect of the children’s day. The energy experienced on the first day of school nearly wiped away the uncertainty. The children were bursting with excitement when they got home. It felt so good for them to have a sense of normalcy back in their lives.

Unequivocally, patience and communication are what will get us through this year. Whether it be any changes we need to be aware of or just checking in, the school’s communication gives an added comfort layer in this unusual school year. The understanding that everyone is doing everything they can to keep others safe and provide a high-quality educational experience is necessary. We, as parents, also need to accept the changes. Parents were used to coming into the school each morning, but children enter by themselves this year. However, an added layer of independence is sprouting from the safety measures that have been implemented. Staying focused on the brighter side of each challenge, we keep pushing forward in this unprecedented school year.