RANTOUL — Educators will be venturing into a new world this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Right now, they don’t know what instruction will look like.

Rantoul Township High School Superintendent Scott Amerio said the first part of the planning process is establishing a transition team that will look at the state recommendations “and figure out what we need to do.”

The team will include administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals and other support staff such as food service and custodial personnel in addition to some parents and students. From 30 to 40 people will comprise the team.

The group will have one large foundational meeting and then meet in subcommittees.

“The first question is what does our student schedule look like,” Amerio said. “Will we have all students there at one time? Will we have to split them up? If so, how will it look? Is it morning-afternoon? Is it one group meets one day and another the next?”

A combination of in-person and remote learning is also a possibility.  

Amerio said a survey was sent to families asking questions regarding preferences and concerns for their children in terms of learning and safety. Sent out Tuesday, the school had 130 responses by Thursday.

He said about half of those responding said they are concerned about the academic progress of their children, but right behind that are health concerns.

Amerio said the state appears to prefer as much in-person instruction as possible but realizes many schools don’t have the space needed for every child to attend every day because of social distancing requirements.

“I’m thinking we’re probably going to do some type of hybrid,” he said. “We don’t have the capacity to put 20 or 25 desks in a room and maintain social distancing. If you’re a smaller school district, you might have the better capability of having in-person instruction. If we maintain 6 feet between everybody, we’re looking, at most, at 12 desks per classroom.”

Bus transportation to high school wouldn’t be as much of a problem as it would be for elementary schools because many high school students can drive themselves or walk.

Amerio said the plan is to start classes on Aug. 17.

Summer school

For some RTHS students, the traditional in-person learning method is the best. They struggled to learn during the three months of altered instruction during the COVID-19 quarantine.

Those students got a chance to get where they needed to be by attending summer school.

Assistant Principal Brooke Billings said 127 students have been enrolled in summer school classes. Some had only struggled in one class and are already finished. For others, the catch-up work took longer.

During the stay-at-home period, “some of our students struggled with connectivity as far as being online and having those resources at home,” Billings said.

RTHS was able to provide about 200 students with Chromebooks if they had internet. Another 100 students did not have internet access, and they were provided with paper copies.   

Connectivity aside, some students prefer paper copies for learning, especially for math.

“They want to be able to write down the problem and solve it,” Billings said. “They want to physically have the paper work.”

No students received F grades. Instead the grade was “incomplete,” and they were provided an oppportunity to rectify the incomplete and work to receive a letter grade for that course.

Summer classes were taught online, but teachers met individually with students periodically, using social distancing.

“Some need to work with a teacher one on one,” Billings said. “We have found they have great success doing that. These kids are used to being with someone to help them seven hours a day.”

Billings said when given the opportunity to meet with students individually, the teachers jumped at the chance to help the students.

Summer school lasted for 17 days, although some students finished much sooner because they had an incomplete in only one class.

Work on the building

Meantime, “summer school” in some areas means work on the facility, getting the school ready for the 2020-21 school year. That, too, is progressing.

Amerio said last week that students visiting the foods room, which had a 1950s feel to it, won’t recognize the place when they return to class. The room is getting a complete makeover.

“We just got done with demolition and abatement,” Amerio said. “They’ll put in the commercial hood, but when I talked to the contractor, they probably won’t be there in earnest (again) until like July 6.”

Two other projects include replacing the west wing chiller, which is supposed to be finished by the end of July or early August, and the replacement of three sets of interior doors.