Rebuilding America: Our series dives into our community's efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials from the two local high schools and Fort Hays State University are looking ahead to what education might look like in the fall during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.


When the crisis shut down classroom teaching midway through the spring semester, schools switched to online learning.


Hays High School principal Marty Straub said that as the summer progresses, the school will monitor the effects of the pandemic and the state’s guidelines. Sometime in July is when USD 489 would likely start planning a switch from classroom teaching to online learning, if necessary.


"I think the plan in our district is going to be based on what happens from mid-June to July," Straub said. "July is going to be very interesting."


Straub did ask teachers to begin thinking about what online instruction would look like in their classes in the fall.


"I know it’s on their minds," Straub said. "We’ve got a great staff; they will figure it out."


Thomas More Prep-Marian principal Chad Meitner said school officials will keep track of the crisis during the summer and plan accordingly.


"We’re closely monitoring the phases the state has put out," Meitner said.


TMP is looking at how to implement a plan if the state guidelines dictate a partial return to classroom learning and/or social distancing in classes.


"We’d have to do some things with the schedule and with our space to accommodate that," Meitner said. "What right now we’re thinking is how many kids we can get into our classroom if they have to sit 6 feet apart.


"It’s not ideal," he said. "With the 270 students and the square footage we’ve got, we could do that."


Meitner and Straub agreed classroom teaching is preferred to online learning in getting the best education possible.


"That’s probably a given it wouldn’t progress as fast" online, Meitner said, adding about 10% of TMP students needed additional assistance from teachers during the spring semester.


"I would venture to guess you could ask every teacher in our district and everyone would say, ‘I can teach better when I could build relationships with them face-to-face,’ " Straub said. "I’m certain everyone would say it’s a more effective instructional method, but we don’t get to make the decision all the time."


Shawn Denton, who will be entering his fourth year as an English teacher at TMP, prefers to be with students in the classroom but is preparing for online education in the fall should that be necessary. He already uses video as part of his teaching, which eased the transition to online instruction in the spring. Denton plans over the summer to make videos covering two to three months of classroom instruction. If he doesn’t have to use them online, he can still implement them in the classroom.


"If we have to go to online learning at the beginning of the semester or during the semester, I’m ready at the drop of the hat to switch to online learning," Denton said. "What you’re going to miss is that spontaneity that can occur. Students learn from each other and their teacher."


Jessica Seib, who will have two children at TMP in the fall, three at Holy Family Elementary School and another who will be a junior at Fort Hays State University, said she and other parents have some anxiety about what the next school year will look like.


"I’m definitely nervous," Seib said. "I’ve talked to other parents, too; everybody kind of has that similar anxiousness about it."


Hays High and TMP will follow Kansas State High School Activities Association guidelines concerning extracurricular activities, from sports to band and everything in between.


"My kids are active in sports, too," Seib said. "You wonder what that is going to look like."


Seib’s daughter at FHSU hopes to have classroom teaching in the fall, even though she excelled online last semester, posting a 4.0 grade-point average.


FHSU has a three-phase plan for reopening the campus. In a message to FHSU staff, school officials said they anticipated completing proposed plans for the fall reopening phase and sharing decisions by early July.


"The Phased Plan Toward FHSU Employee Return and University Reopening aligns with our guiding principles and demonstrates our commitment to problem-solve locally and communicate centrally," said Scott Cason, Chief Communications Officer at University Relations and Marketing. "It also incorporates the best knowledge and latest guidance we have from members of our campus community as well as federal, state, and local public health officials."


Ginny Ke, a senior in the fall at Hays High, is vice president of student council and is involved in numerous extracurricular activities, including basketball. She hopes to have at least a limited season this winter.


"As long as I get to play my sport a couple times, see my teammates and friends, I would be happy with that," Ke said.


Ke, who plans to attend Wichita State University, was disappointed she was not able to make campus visits because of virus restrictions.


"In springtime and summertime is usually when juniors go visit colleges and get a real-life experience of what college is going to be like," Ke said. "Because of the current situation, we weren’t able to step on campus, experience what college has to offer. Everything is virtual now."


While Denton would be happy to skip virtual education for the classroom, there is some trepidation on his part.


"I will probably never feel wholly comfortable until there is a vaccine," Denton said. "Until we get that, there always is going to be a possibility that somebody in our school can get COVID-19. At that point, it will be interesting how we handle it.


"I will be thrilled to see my students, my fellow teachers," he added. "There will always be that lingering doubt that this isn’t quite over until we get that vaccination."


Ke is just thrilled at the possibility of attending school for her senior year.


"I want to have fun and end this on a good note," Ke said. "I know nobody saw this coming, and hopefully it doesn’t happen again.


"Once my senior year starts and I step into that school, I’m not going to take anything for granted anymore. I’m going to every single dance, every school activity, see my friends, before my senior year ends."