Students going back to school certainly has parents on edge, so Fort Wayne United and City Life hosted another virtual forum Aug. 6, discussing that very topic.

The panel, which was supposed to last an hour, was so popular that another forum on the same issue might be in the works at a later date.

The panel included Mark Daniel, Superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools; FWCS Chief Officer for Family and Community Debra Faye Williams-Robbins; East Allen County Schools Superintendent Marilyn Hissong; and East Allen County Schools Public Relations Liaison Tamyra Kelly.

EACS began the new school year Aug. 10. FWCS classes begin Aug. 13. Southwest Allen County Schools and Northwest Allen County Schools began classes Aug. 12.

The school districts are diving into “uncharted water,” as Daniel put it.

“Our plans are changing every day we walk through those doors,” Daniel said.

Daniel is entering his first year as superintendent for FWCS and while plans may have to adapt, he said, one thing won’t: putting what’s best for the kids first.

“It’s not just the physical health, it’s the social emotional health of our kids. Well-being of our kids and adults as well,” Daniel said. “First and foremost, it is about relationships, relationships, relationships. They need a time to share and just talk to each other and you know what, there’s going to be emotion and that’s OK.”

He credited FWCS staff for assisting with meal programs and more after schools were closed in March.

“We had bus drivers distributing meals, administrators too,” he said.

EACS also had a meal program, and had students from other school districts and even other states attend, due to Fort Wayne’s proximity to Ohio, according to Hissong.

With some parents are concerned about the quality of learning virtually vs. in person, Hissing echoed the sentiment, adding that establishing a relationship with students virtually is always more difficult than in person, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

Teachers at both districts have received training on how best to teach students who chose the virtual option.

For those attending in person, additional precautions will be taken at both school districts to ensure students' safety, but “if there’s an opportunity for learning outside, we’re gonna take that option,” Hissong said.

Both EACS and FWCS are working closely with the Allen County Department of Health to ensure standards are kept up, including sanitation and even contact tracking, if needed.

Hissong emphasized the importance of ensuring students, especially seniors, get the courses they need in order to graduate on time. This year, 9,000 students enrolled at EACS, with nearly 17 percent opting for the virtual option. With nearly 17 percent at the secondary of primary students doing school virtually, the goal will be to keep students engaged.

Once the commentary portion of the forum started, some parents asked about how to approach the problem of kids overdosing on screen time as well as how to bridge the gap between home and school.

The idea is “to teach in buckets of 5-10 minutes, then 10-15 minutes for older students, then allow the student to apply what they learn,” Daniel said.

This adaptable age-appropriate approach should help keep the students focused and also allow them to get the same education they would receive in a physical classroom.

“It’s more than just signing in, attendance, homework completion,” Daniel said.

Still, FWCS is maintaining a realistic approach about what they can and can’t do, with the goal of teaching what’s most important.

Even though it may be a daunting start to a new school year, Daniel is sure his staff will rise to high expectations.

For more information on upcoming forums, visit Facebook.com/FortWayneUNITED.

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