There is no higher priority to school officials (or leaders) than the safety of our students, staff, and stakeholders. School personnel are experiencing unprecedented times, yet responding with tremendous resiliency, innovation, and unparalleled care for the students they serve. As your ESU 13 Administrator, as well as a parent, former principal, and husband of a school counselor, I am witnessing first hand the effect COVID-19 is having on school personnel, and most importantly our students. Students miss their teacher, counselor, or other favorite school employee whom they have made a connection. Students miss their peers and their extracurricular activities, which for some provide their greatest connection to school. Teachers and support staff miss their students. They miss those smiling faces and the many moments of joy and happiness that can only be created in a school setting. School leaders are missing their interactions with students and in-person collaboration with staff.

In these challenging and unprecedented times, I could not be more proud of how bright ESU 13 has shone. State officials are looking to ESU’s for regional guidance and leadership, and this has presented a unique opportunity to once again demonstrate our exemplary service, support, and value to Nebraska’s educational system. Staff have been working through the delivery of services to students and day-to-day operations in conjunction with how our member schools have decided to proceed with educational services to students. Here are just a few examples of how ESU 13 has shined bright.

Alternative Education

Staff are working diligently to provide meaningful instruction via Zoom and using Google Applications. The personal relationships the VALTS staff builds with their students is one of the hallmarks of the program. Moving to an alternative learning environment presents a new set of challenges in fostering relationships; however, we are confident that the Zoom chats and phone calls with the students and parents will help keep us informed on how the students are progressing both academically and personally.

Behavior-Mental Health

The Behavior and Mental Health Department has created short video clips with guided mediation, self-help lessons, etc. for youth and families. Additionally, videos to encourage participation in virtual challenges (e.g. scavenger hunts, heart hunter, chalk the walk, etc.) with subsequent sharing of challenge updates via social media platform, are being created to enhance staff and community member social connection during this time of physical and social distancing. Supporting the emotional health of youth during this time, recommendations and resources document has been created and is available on the ESU 13 website. Staff are connecting with youth, families and schools via telehealth services and other technology platforms to provide ongoing service and support throughout the duration of the school year.

Early Childhood

Sixpence staff are working to support child care programs by sharing on-line professional development opportunities for providers that are working for closed programs. Sixpence was able to reallocate some grant funds to support providers while they have absent children in their programs by reimbursing them for some of those absent slots. EDN Services Coordinators continue connecting with families to share community resources in an effort to ensure that basic needs are being met for young children.

Head Start

Staff have and will continue to provide educational resources, diapers, formula, information on anxiety and stress, and other valuable resources to families. In addition, they have been making individual contacts to families to identify and assist in addressing individual needs. For more information, visit our Head Start Facebook page.

Professional Learning

The Professional Learning Department has developed meaningful, purposeful training for classified and certified staff across the region. The team has also scheduled and facilitated virtual grade level and content specific meetings which will allow teachers to collaborate and support.

Psychological Services

Staff have been collaborating with our school districts to complete student assessments and hold special education meetings utilizing Zoom and other remote means. Team members are providing counseling services via technology to students.

Special Education

The Special Education Department developed strong plans and practices in the wake of the shut down. Multiple webinars were attended and calls were made to identify legal and procedural components related to online instruction. Staff was mobilized to begin planning for distance services. Meridian and LifeLink teachers and staff spent countless hours developing packets and lesson plans to support online instruction that would take place in the following weeks. Service providers reached out to families to schedule tele-therapy services and staff have been supporting families remotely.

Technology

In a period of two weeks, the Technology Department created approximately 2,000 Zoom accounts for teachers in 18 of our 21 districts.

Title 1C Migrant Education

Title 1C has been working closely with families and schools to ensure that families are aware of the new educational expectations and nutritional services from schools. Staff have been providing many local and technology resources around safety, social emotional wellbeing, nutrition, educational resources and much more. Staff have also partnered with local businesses that have assisted in providing basic needs for our families. Most recently, they are focusing on ways to brighten their families day.

In closing, I would like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to each and every one of the employees in our school systems for the flexibility, creativity, and care for our youth that they have been exhibiting on a daily basis. The collaboration that has been occurring between school districts and Panhandle COVID-19 Unified Command in the ESU 13 service area is evidence of what a truly special place we all live. We are truly STRONGER TOGETHER!

If you are wanting to learn more about ESU 13, please visit our website at www.esu13.org.

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