(Above photo: CHS senior Madi Auten is shown in a video she made for classmates.)
By Ally Telfor
Lacy Jewell, like many seniors at Charlotte High School (CHS), said that in the past few weeks, she’s learned to not take anything for granted. She said she’s been dreaming about end-of-high school experiences, like prom and graduation, her whole life.
“I would give anything to go to school at 7:30,” Jewell said. “I think we’re all realizing that we’re not going to take the little things for granted anymore.”
Gov. Whitmer enacted a new executive order on April 2 to close Michigan schools for the rest of the school year. Since then, Charlotte Public Schools (CPS) has been continuing to work to provide its students with academic preparation from afar.
CPS Superintendent Mandy Stewart said the schools have been preparing for the worst-case scenario since before Gov. Whitmer closed Michigan schools.
“There was pre planning behind the scenes because we didn’t know what would happen, and we tend to worst-case-scenario everything just in case,” Stewart said. “But as far as communication, we are finding out when the public is finding out.
“As a press conference happens, we have to implement those plans as quickly as possible.”
That final week
Sarah Rohlfs, an English teacher at CHS, said the news spreading throughout Washington state caused her ever-increasing anxiety in very early March.
“I was trying to remain as calm as possible and model that kind of calm, but I was also trying to prepare myself emotionally and professionally for what some kind of closure would be like,” Rohlfs said.
One of Rohlfs’ senior students, Madi Auten, said the high school musical’s opening night had been cancelled that week, making it the first domino in the rush of cancellations.
Auten said students began speaking to each other as if they were going to war — that they would see each other when they came out the other end of it.
“For me and for a lot of people, I don’t think that we expected the two weeks to be the whole year,” Auten said. “A lot of us didn’t prepare or expect for it to be as big as it’s gotten.”
Jewell said the cancellations started increasing as the week of March 9 went on, and she soon realized her senior year wouldn’t be the same.
“It got more serious every day,” she said. “It was a very helpless feeling to know that I can’t do anything to get those opportunities.”
Rohlfs said that, for her, it’s important to take care of her students firstly as people.
“Emotions are super high; we’re grieving the loss of some traditions and milestones,” Rohlfs said.
Jeff Bohl, CHS principal, said his biggest task right now is maintaining the school’s sense of community to give students a semblance of normality.
“Our teachers are doing everything they can to connect with students and to create a feeling that we are still a thriving community that is here for everyone’s support,” Bohl said.
Stewart said the priority is first to encourage teachers to connect with their students and their parents. Following that, an academic plan will begin rolling out.
Earlier this week, Stewart said parents can expect FAQ sheets coming soon with more guidance. She said everything the school is getting from the state, Governor’s office, etc. will be communicated to parents.
“As much as we want to answer everybody’s questions, we also want to make sure we’re giving them the correct information,” Stewart said.
Bohl and Stewart said there are general unknowns when it comes to events. Because it’s unknown when Gov. Whitmer’s “Stay Safe, Stay Home” order will be lifted, convening events like graduation and prom cannot be known yet.
Rohlfs said very few teachers have experience teaching online, so a lot of these new tasks are all completely new.
“Whatever teachers are creating, we’re creating this under the understanding that not every single kid has equal access and can equally participate,” Rohlfs said.
Bohl said the rural nature of Charlotte’s residents is an obstacle in making the switch to online instruction, as compared to other districts. He said throughout this process, there has been an overwhelming feeling of grace in the community.
Stewart said CPS will have a distance learning plan in place very soon, with frequent communication to parents with the details. She said she is hoping for more state and MDE guidance to help.
She said the state said, in Gov. Whitmer’s townhall meeting this week, that they were focusing efforts on hot spots to expand internet access in rural areas. She said the district is looking into both devices and internet access.
“As we’re assessing the need, we’re also looking at plans of how to distribute or connect families with devices,” Stewart said.
Stewart said CPS submitted an education plan to Eaton RESA on Wednesday, who will then review it and submit it to the State of Michigan by April 28. Stewart said CPS will be rolling out support and recommendations before then.
“In times like this, it really shows how much people are thinking of their community and how much they want to help, and Charlotte has really pulled together,” Stewart said.
She also said she is immensely impressed at the ability of CPS teachers to, in a very short time period, gather materials to instate resources before they left school.
Bohl said the situation will forever change the district.
“It really has shifted overnight, and there is no doubt that we’re going to be a different kind of organization after this,” Bohl said. “Education is definitely going to shift; we’re going to be more nimble.”
Jewell said she’s hopeful she can still experience some of her end-of-high school milestones.
“We deserve what every other senior class has gotten,” she said.
Stewart said it will be important to honor this year’s seniors despite the difficult situation.
“In an ideal world, we would have every event that we possibly could, but prioritizing student safety and health in our community, we are going to have look at other options,” Stewart said. “It’s going to have to be an ongoing plan to figure out how we can recognize them because it’s sorely needed.”
Auten said she does have worries.
“It’s scary to think about graduation or what my fall semester of college might look like,” Auten said. “I realized the other day that the next classroom that I’ll be in will be in college.
“I’m worried that I won’t feel the closure of high school if we don’t have a graduation, but I know that our administration will do what they can to help us out.”
Bohl said that, for seniors who are moving onto secondary education, he expects colleges to step up.
“Colleges are going to help take care of them in the same way that we’re going to go out of our way and do some exceptional things to transition them out this year” he said.
Bohl has been leading the charge to honor the class of 2020 in any way possible. He has made a video to his students, discussing these issues and asking for feedback from the class of 2020 to meet them in the middle.
“We are going to celebrate our seniors; we’re going to send them off in style,” he said in video.
Rohlfs said honoring the seniors is paramount.
“There’s a hunger to do something to honor our kids,” Rohlfs said. We’re so proud of them; we want to celebrate them.
“I’ve already seen an immense amount of gratitude, and I think that as long as we continue to be grateful for each other that we’re going to be fine and we’re going to be a stronger school at the end of this.”
Ally Telfor is a reporter with the Spartan Newsroom at Michigan State University, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.