Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Willemstan and WCS
This article was last updated on February 21st of 2021.
A meme created by a member of Willemstan, a parody of the old meme "Pool's Closed due to Aids".
"Hello everybody and welcome back to week #2 of our... very exciting online teaching."
- Interim teacher Mr. Kyle Long during an instructional video for remote learning, 09/08/20.
"It is a privilege to rejoin WCS after many months away. It feels like coming home, though home looks and feels different than before. Many things have changed, but... it is clear that our dedication to educational excellence has never been more resolute."
- Dr. Adam Spina in his Superintendent's Blog upon returning to WCS, 10/22/20.
The COVID-19 Pandemic began in December of 2019, and arrived in the USA in January of 2020. Most state governments began to take action in March of 2020 or later, after the number of cases continued to increase exponentially. Williamston High School initially shutdown on March 13th of 2020. The pandemic has not been kind to Williamston Community Schools as a whole. Both the 2019 - 2020 and the 2020 - 2021 school year has been disrupted by COVID-19, and the District lacked the funds to reopen safely for in-person schooling at the start of the 2020 - 2021 school year. Furthermore, WCS has lost about 100 students during the 2020 - 2021 school year due to the controversal decision to reopen remotely, and even though this was compensated through federal funding, this may be the spark of another long-term enrollment decline. The elementary schools did move to a hybrid plan for a few weeks, but this came to an end after new lockdown orders were announced. WHS and WMS were supposed to go hybrid as well, but the plan was approved before the infastructure was ready, resulting in months of delay. The superintendent of the WCS District, Dr. Spina, was on leave from March of 2020 until October 22nd of 2020. On October 13th of 2020, the first case at WCS was announced by the administration. Williamston Community Schools has reported 13 total cases, the majority of which have been elementary staff. However, by January of 2021, things seem to have finally turned around for WCS. Williamston High School and Williamston Middle School are about to enter Phase Two of the Hybrid Plan, and grades K-5 are back in fulltime in-person learning.
It has been:
since the last normal school day at Williamston High School. This was March 13th of 2020, which was a half day in which students were mostly there to collect their belongings and some homework.
2019 - 2020 School Year
Shutdown of Williamston High School & Williamston Community Schools (March 2020)
Shutdown of Williamston High School & Williamston Community Schools (March 2020)
The early response to the pandemic by the WHS administration was very disorganized, and may have caused a lot of confusion. On March 12th of 2020, at around 7:45 pm, Dr. Adam Spina released an email to all of the parents of students at WHS. The email stated that "the current recommendation of the Ingham County Health Department has not changed and they DO NOT recommend the closure of K-12 schools at this time". Spina proceeded to explain that WHS, as well as the rest of Williamston Community Schools, would remain open despite the ongoing pandemic, but "all non-core instructional" activities were indefinitely suspended. This included the 2020 Robotics competition. However, not even four hours after the first email, Williamston High School sent out a second email, announcing that WHS would be closed after all starting March 16th. This was due to Governor Whitmer's order to close all K-12 school buildings.
The next day, March 13th of 2020, at around 5:25am, Dr. Spina released a third email, which was called for the students and staff to take home their personal belongings from their lockers, classrooms, and office/desk spaces at the end of the day on Friday, March 13." This meant the school was closing on March 13th and not March 16th after all. At around 6:30am, Dr. Spina sent out yet another email during March 13th. This email announced that all of WCS will be operating on a half day schedule, which means that the school day only existed now for students to grab their stuff and leave. The final email for the situation was sent out by Spina once more, at around 5:30pm (well after school ended). This makes the fifth email, and it is full of statements that override the contents of previous emails. To name one example, it states that "There have been some conflicting reports regarding State child care directives. To be clear, Kids’ Corner will be closed effective Monday, March 16.", which is a direct contradiction to the previous email, which stated that childcare would remain open. Most significantly however, this email hints that Spring Break may be used as a bargaining chip of sorts in order to earn back some of the lost days. In case you didn't know, WCS can cancel up to 6 days of school a year, which are used primarily for snow days. However, by closing WHS on March 16th until at least Spring Break, far more than 6 days will be used up, meaning that school year could be extended to make up for lost time. However, you will later learn this plan would never come to fruition.
The final email for March 13th.
Indefinite Closure of Williamston High School & Williamston Community Schools (March 2020 - April 2020)
Initially, the plan was for WCS to shut down for a few weeks, and then reopen on April 5th, making it a mere 3 week break. However, this was quickly derailed as it became clear the pandemic was out of control in Michigan during the time period. As a result, on March 20th, the administration sent out two emails. One email was sent by Spina to parents, directing them to a "Online Capability Survey". This was the first clue that the administration had plans to move schooling online. However, the second email was from Dr. Delp, and was sent to both parents and students. The email contained lots of useful information, and was arguably the most helpful and well structured thing the administration has done in the past week. Anyway, moving past the administration's incompetence, the email announced that the SATs would probably be canceled, AP exams are still a thing, Spring Break would still occur, and "all spring activities between now and April 5 are postponed".
Some of the janitors cleaning one of the classrooms in one of the elementary schools.
On April 2nd of 2020, Michigan Governor Whitmer announced that all schools will be closed for the rest of the academic year. Williamston High School also canceled and/or indefinitely postponed all after school activities, extra-curriculars, and the senior send-off. This was the final "nail in the coffin" for any hopes of returning to school in-person for the remains of the 2019-2020 school year, as well as any hope for the 2020 Robotics season.
Transition to Remote Learning (April 2020 - June 2020)
On April 10th, Kelly Campbell, the principal of Explorer Elementary, sent out an email to all of the parents in WCS, letting everyone know that plans were all but finalized to transition to a form of online school. Set to begin on Monday, April 20th, all K-12 students will be required to participate in some form of remote learning. This would end up being primarily directed through a new website, email, and by teachers through Google Classroom. For those who couldn't do remote learning online, they would be given some sort of alternative work. Mrs. Campbell was serving as acting superintendent at the time, as Dr. Spina was serving in the national guard for several months, starting shortly after WHS closed down.
District Closure Community Update on April 10th of 2020, which confirmed that Williamston High School would move to remote instruction on April 20th.
"Remote Student Instruction" began on April 20th, as a replacement for regular academic instruction at school. Despite the fact that all students have what is effectively a five month spring-summer vacation (due to the minimal workload plus the full month off), Remote Student Instruction ended on June 5th, which would have been the day school had ended if the whole coronavirus thing didn't happen. Final exams were also not required. The administration has since admited the Remote Learning Plan was rushed and quickly put together.
The new "Continuity of Learning in Williamston Community Schools" website.
Reception of Remote Student Instruction by the Students of Williamston High School
Remote Student Instruction was used by the majority of students as a way to increase their GPA for almost no effort. In fact, you could view it as a widespread implementation of Mr. Weber's teaching. Cheating was widespread during the seven weeks of remote instruction, and almost all of the assignments were given over Google Classroom, just like in Weber's class. Late work was accepted at no penalty, and everyone got 10/10s on their work as long as they turned something in. Not to mention that each teacher was only giving two short assignments a week, so as a result, if a student wasn't in MSA, AP, or Dual Enrollment, they had very little work to do. As a result, the vast majority of students were able to complete assignments quickly and saw a nice GPA boost as a result. The seniors were given the option to auto-graduate and didn't have to do any work as long as they were passing all of their classes before school closed.
A minority of students were simply very unmotivated to do the work, and as a result just skipped most of it or didn't do it at all. Most students can agree that the work given was more uninteresting, bland, and ineffective compared to regular school. General motivation to complete the work was down. These factors would continue to be a problem in the 2020-2021 school year.
WHS Class Of 2020 Graduation Ceremony
Not only did the seniors have no work, they also had no real graduation. After multiple postponements, Williamston Community Schools finally gave up and released a "Class of 2020 Virtual Graduation" video on the district website. This graduation is a series of videos thrown together and were not fillmed in one single take. Considering the complete disaster that was the Okemos Drive-Thru Graduation, I think it was the right call. The video begins with Dr. Delp welcoming everyone to the virtual graduation video, and lists everyone on the WCS Board of Education. From there, a student gives a speech, and then one of the choirs sings "Hold Fast to Dreams" while social distancing outside of the school. After that, another student gives a speech, and the Williamston High School band preforms "Jumpstart". Dr. Delp then boasts about the school for a bit, this is followed by two teachers listing the names of all of the graduates. The video continues with Dr. Delp giving a small final speech, followed by the band playing the "WHS Fight Song". The video ends with a montage of images taken of the seniors throughout the year.
Dr. Delp in the virtual graduation video.
Effect on Willemstan
The 2020 Robotics Competition (which many Willemstani citizens participated in) was delayed indefinitely and eventually canceled. The Robotics Team could not access the robotics room anyway because the school has been shut down. However, what caused the most impact was when the school shut off all of the computers in the robotics room on April 17th of 2020. This occured because the school was reorganizing the space. The Live Camera Feed live streams, along with System IV, and the Discord bots, all went offline because of this. So in short, many of Willemstan's entertainment sources were knocked offline.
2020 - 2021 School Year
Reopening Plan Survey (July 2020)
Reopening Plan Survey (July 2020)
"To open school, or not to open school, that is the question." - Dr. Spina probably.
Prior to August, several nearby schools, such as East Lansing Public Schools and Okemos Public Schools had already announced they would be fully online for the first semester. Typically, there is a domino effect when it comes to neighboring schools and snow days, so it was assumed that Williamston might very well do the same. Instead, Williamston Community Schools released three potential plans and sent out a poll to collect opinions. These three options varied from 100% online to 100% in person. Of course, popular vote alone did not decide the outcome, the administration simply wanted to see what was most popular. Naturally, several people on facebook decided to abuse the poorly made google form and filled out the form dozens of times. Acting superintendent Mrs. Kelly Campbell said she was "disappointed", while those responsible claimed the school should have done a better job with the form.
School Board Zoom Bombed
On July 20th of 2020, a school board meeting was zoom bombed by an unknown individual. The zoom bomber impersonated acting vice principal Mr. Armour by renaming themselves to his name, and then proceeded to screenshare inapproprate content. What exactly occured was not shared by the school, but several first and second hand accounts claim there was a naked man, n-words, and that the school board just ended up shutting off the meeting because they didn't want (or know how) to kick the impersonator. In all, pretty embarrassing for the school board. Thankfully this has not happened since.
The administration's somewhat comical statement on the issue.
Initial Reopening Plan
During a school board meeting on July 28th of 2020, the school board voted to begin the school year fully online until at least October 16th. This decision was made primarily on the fact that the school district lacked the funds to provide spare masks and adequate sanitization equipment if school were to open, as well as the general health of the community. The administration stated time and time again that the new plan would be different than the remote learning plan from the previous year. This email was sent out to all parents by the interim superintendent Kelly Campbell, as Spina had yet to return:
Before you ask, no this email was not sent to the students. The students have yet to be directly informed about the upcoming school year, despite the fact that it was only a month away at the time.
On August 4th of 2020, interm superintendent Kelly Campbell sent out an email to all Williamston parents. In short, this email was meant to redirect people to the FAQ document on the school district website.
Return 2 Learn Plan (August 2020 - December 2020)
On August 17th of 2020, Williamston Community Schools released the approved "Remote Learning II" plan during a school board meeting. This plan consisted of an asynchronous & synchronous format, with asynchronous learning taking place in the morning, with virtual meetings in the afternoon to supplement the asynchronous material. The first two weeks revolved around a different schedule to get students used to the remote learning experience. This was known officially as the "Return 2 Learn Plan", and apparently other nearby schools used the same name.
The main schedule was this: On Mondays, students had 3 hours and 50 minutes of asynchronous work time for all six of their classes. This was followed by 2 hours and 50 minutes of synchronous google meets calls for all six classes, each 24 minutes long. For Tuesdays and Thursdays, there was 3 hours and 50 minutes of asynchronous work time for the first, second, and third hour classes. This was followed by 2 hours and 20 minutes of synchronous google meets calls for those first three classes, each 40 minutes long. For Wednesdays and Fridays, there was 3 hours and 50 minutes of asynchronous work time for the fourth, fifth, and sixth hour classes. This was followed by 2 hours and 20 minutes of synchronous google meets calls for those last three classes, each 40 minutes long.
On August 26th of 2020, Dr. Delp and Mr. Armour released a 30 minute video explaining the entire plan to students and their families, as well as going through the typical beginning of the school year assembly presentation. Students were expected to watch this video. During this video, Dr. Delp continued the school board narrative by bashing the previous remote learning plan, and described this plan as "closer to real school". He also claimed "grades will be earned" this time, which was an upgrade compared to the default 60% grade. Dr. Delp also described teacher support sessions, which was supposed to be scheduled 15 minute appointements with teachers that students can sign up for. There was also AOH, academic office hours, which seems to be a successor to AOT, but better in almost every aspect. In all, the plan was a significant improvement from the previous Remote Learning system.
Acording to a school board meeting in September, the Williamston Community Schools District had lost about 100 students since moving online. These were probably mostly elementary students, but we will probably never know for sure.
New Hybrid Plan & Financial Update (October 2020)
On October 5th of 2020, the WCS School Board proposed a new Hybrid Plan, which would later be voted on and approved in a 9 - 0 vote on October 19th of 2020. This plan was a mix of the remote system, mixed in with some in person instruction. The elementary students were set to return on October 26th and Novemeber 2nd, but the middle school and high school situation was a bit more complicated, as much of the equipment nessisary for hybrid learning was not installed at the school by the time the agenda was approved. As a result, there was no solid timetable for when 6-12 students would join the hybrid plan.
The Hybrid Plan featured the students split into three groups. The first are A and B, which are the two groups of students who attend the school a couple days a week on different days. The third group are students who opted to remain at home 100% of the time, which was about 1/3 of the student population.
A great deal of financial information was also revealed during the school board meetings. For one, it was determined that the school lost $161,064 of funding due to the loss of 100 students, but a ton of federal funding actually resulted in a surplus of $897,426. Additionally, COVID-19 Relief Funds gave the school district $350 per pupil, and an additonal $12.32 per pupil from the district. This resulted in a further $691,843 increase, but the vast majorty of this must be spent by December 30th of 2020. So in short, the school did not suffer a financial blow during this time period.
Phase One Hybrid Plan (December 2020 - February 2021)
The Hybrid Plan was first introduced to the elementary population in November of 2020. However, after only a couple weeks, it was suspended due to a recent outbreak. The administration took advantage of thanksgiving break to make this work. The elementary students were back in hybrid by December of 2020.
The situation for middle and high school students was more complicated. Infrastructure delays derailed the entire hybrid plan for them until January of 2021, when it was all finally finished. This infrastructure primarly included new cameras in each classroom, which allowed the remote students to see the classroom. Williamston Middle School opened for hybrid right after winter break concluded (early January), and Williamston High School opened up for hybrid after the first semester concluded (late January).
The hybrid plan consisted of two main sections. It had an asynchronus section in the morning, which worked the same as the previous system. Then in the afternoon, hybrid learning occured. The lunch break was extended to an hour to allow ample time to eat lunch and then travel to the school. The hybrid students were split into groups "A" and "B", in which only one group would show up each day. These students were "taught" in person, while the rest of the students listened online. There was no real difference in educational quality for hybrid students vs online students, those who were attending in-person only benifited from actual social interaction and being able to see their teachers face-to-face.
One of the controversies regarding the hybrid plan was the snowday policy. In December, Dr. Spina announced that snowdays would no longer cancel school, instead all students would just attend online. This insured the school continued without interruption. Those who supported this policy argued there was no need to cancel school when online infastructure was already in place, and the decrease in the educational experience should not be hindered any further. Those against it belived snowdays are still benificial in the online enviroment and pointed to how other districts were still canceling school on snowdays.
Phase Two Hybrid Plan (March 2021+)
On March 1st of 2021, Williamston High School and Williamston Middle School began "full time PM" instruction, also known as Phase 2 of the District Reopening Plan. 1/3 of students still remained online, but this second phase called for the merge of the two hybrid groups into one cohort. It also extended the class instruction period (synchronus time) from 40 minutes to one hour for each class, the later is more or less the same as real school. However, there were still only 3 classes per day. In short, this new plan means the hybrid learning group structure was eliminated in favor of longer instruction with more students. The PM synchronous session will run 11:50 AM - 3:00 PM for all students. Asynchronus still existed in the morning, from 8:15 - 10:50 AM. This motion was approved 7 - 0 by the school board.
Elementary students returned to full time in-person instruction at the same time (K-5 students).