Carmel Clay Schools: Serving Its District During the COVID-19 Crisis

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Carmel Monthly magazine coronavirus cover

March 2020

During this most unprecedented time of our history—throughout our community, our nation and the world over—Carmel Clay Schools’ (CCS) administrators, educators and staff have risen to the call and are continuing their efforts to make resources available to their students and families by implementing technology and ingenuity to create a temporary “new normal” while the community navigates through the COVID-19 crisis.

We spoke with a few CCS administrators and educators to learn more about the measures the district has taken to ensure that services to its students—educational and otherwise—are disrupted as minimally as possible. As the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and we learned about how educators are using both modern technology and “old-school” methods to remotely communicate with and instruct their students.

A Look at the CCS Virtual Learning Experience

CCS’s assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and assessment, Dr. Amy Dudley, shared her enthusiasm and appreciation for the level of collaboration, dedication and care that the administrators, educators, parents and students are putting into the district’s newly implemented virtual learning protocols.

“Our administrators are just amazing at how hard they have worked to get this [virtual learning] launched in very limited time,” Dr. Dudley said. “Our kindergarten through 12th grade teachers have developed engaging lessons for our students using our platform—Canvas—which is our learning management system that we’ve used for the past four years. The platform is not new to us; however, using it at this level and for these purposes is very much new to [our district].”

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Dr. Amy Dudley

On a daily basis, CCS teachers post an announcement for their students that lists all their lessons and assignments along with other things the students are required to do each day.

“The teachers post their office hours [on Canvas], and every teacher is required to have two hours of ‘office’ hours throughout the day,” Dr. Dudley explained. “That gives the students a chance to email their teachers and ask any questions, and the teacher will be available to get right back with them. The teachers can also do video conferences with the students. Parents can also touch base with the teachers and ask any questions that they have. Our teachers are there to help make this a positive experience for students.”

There is a dedicated page to the CCS virtual learning on its website, and on that page, parents and students will find a variety of tools and resources listed.

What About Additional Education Resources for Students Who Require Them?

“For our students that have Individual Education Plans (IEPs) or individualized learning plans where teachers are supporting their specific needs, our second language learners and our special education students, they continue to have accessibility to their general [education] teachers, special education teachers and resource teachers,” Dr. Dudley emphasized. “Our resource teachers are collaborating with our general education teachers to make sure that lessons are accessible.”

If the students required any special assistive technology devices, Dr. Dudley stated that these devices were provided to those students prior to their first day of virtual learning.

What Is Being Done to Assist Students Who Receive Free or Reduced Lunches?

CCS’s Food Services Department hosted a “Food Pickup” on March 18 at Carmel High School. Approximately 600 students received a week’s worth of supplemental breakfast foods, lunch meals and five servings each of fruits, vegetables and milk.

When asked about the food insecurity needs of these children going forward, Dr. Dudley replied, “The need to continue to host these [food pickups] will depend on how long we are not [physically] in our schools. But as the needs arise, food needs included, we will continue to look at how we are meeting those needs. We want to make sure that we are meeting not only the students’ academic needs but their social and emotional needs as well. We are making sure that we are reaching out and connecting with them—virtually—and helping to make sure they have access to any services they need.”

Mental Health Resources Are Key During These Trying Times

The majority of us are navigating a course that has never been charted in our lifetimes. The COVID-19 pandemic weighs heavily on our minds, so can you imagine what the crisis is doing to our children’s sense of security and overall well-being.

Stephanie Whiteside, mental health coordinator for CCS, offered her advice on how to keep our kids happy and mentally healthy over the next several weeks.

Carmel Clay Schools on Its Mission
Stephanie Whiteside, mental health coordinator for CCS

“The longer physical distancing occurs, the more strenuous it can be on children and families as a whole,” Whiteside acknowledged. “To increase feelings of security and normalcy, try to maintain routine as much as possible and implement a schedule that balances e-learning with fun breaks and physical and mindful activities. We don’t want children to feel overwhelmed with online work, but we also do not want them to feel anxious if they feel they are behind. As the weather becomes nicer, we want to encourage children to go out and explore, go on walks, play outside and ride bikes. If they are stuck inside due to weather, there are many websites that are offering free online interactive courses and activities, such as crafting, cooking and organizing.”

Whiteside continued, “Because humans are geared towards social connection, it is important that we attempt to meet our need for peer interaction. Families can encourage ‘distant’ social interactions, such as video playdates, chats or taking up social workers and counselors on their online open hours. It is important that parents continue to monitor social networking activities as screen times may increase. It may be fun for some children to try good ol’-fashioned talking on the phone with friends as well.”

Whiteside emphasized that it is important to be aware of the information children are receiving about the coronavirus.

“Even children who have not historically experienced symptoms of anxiety can become anxious or panicked when presented with too much information or inaccurate information,” Whiteside shared. “It is important that parents are monitoring exposure to social media and news outlets as children may begin to feel overwhelmed with the information. We would also recommend that parents take time to address their child’s concerns and provide clear, age-appropriate answers. [The website] has some great visual supports to assist parents in addressing their child’s questions and fears. Furthermore, it is important that families try to remain positive and focus on the things that are in our control, such as washing our hands, using tissue and coughing into our elbows to prevent the spread of germs.”

Whiteside added, “Finally, we encourage parents to be aware of any mood and/or behavioral changes in their children, such as increased irritability, crying, defiance, sleep problems, complaints of stomach and/or headaches and reports of increased fear. These are signs that your child may be experiencing increased stress. Remember to respond with empathy and patience. Should you have concerns about your child’s mental health, we encourage families to contact their school’s counselor or social worker. Furthermore, many local therapist and mental health supports have moved to an online platform and would be able to provide support during this period of distancing.”

Will There Be a CHS Spring Sports Season and What About Our Boys Basketball Season?

As all of the CCS teachers, directors and coaches are working to enhance their students’ virtual learning experiences and are dedicated to making the most of the current situation, we asked Carmel High School Athletics Director Jim Inskeep, Ryan Osborn, boys basketball coach, and Ken Browner, boys track and field, how are the student athletes keeping up with their respective training and conditioning?

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Carmel High School Athletics Director Jim Inskeep

“For our department, it’s a very interesting time,” Inskeep admitted. “At this point, we would normally be gearing up for spring athletic contests. In fact, the weekend before all this [COVID-19 pandemic] hit, our boys lacrosse team was up and running, and the girls and boys track teams were already into the indoor season. Now, there’s been a stoppage after the teams had already been selected and progressing through their seasons. We have other sports that have not even started yet: boys golf, baseball and girls tennis. So, everyone’s in a little bit of a pickle right now in terms of if we were to restart, where these sports will pick up at.”

Inskeep agreed that there’s going to be some tough decisions made and a lot of emotions across the board.

When asked what he would like for the student-athletes to focus on while they’re training at home, Inskeep said, “I think sometimes you have to take care of yourself mentally and stay focused on your goals from an athletic point of view. Another day will come again. I think there are definitely some thoughts about not getting a chance to compete and do what they love to do—it’s an empty feeling.”

CCS Boys Basketball Was Left Hanging in Midair

Prior to the start of the COVID-19 crisis in the U.S. and specifically Indiana, the Greyhounds defeated Westfield 54-41 for their sixth straight sectional championship. It was the eighth sectional title in the last nine years. The team and its fans were amped up and had their sights on winning another state tournament.

The IHSAA issued a news release on March 13 and postponed the IHSAA Boys Basketball State Tournament and ultimately cancelled the tournament after Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb directed the closure of all Indiana schools until May 1, 2020.

 “This group [of guys] did phenomenal this season as far as sticking with the program and with sticking together,” Osborn said. “From a basketball standpoint, you wanted them to have the opportunity to finish [the season]. So, you do feel for the guys as far as what they’ve put in, the amount of work they’ve put in, their commitment to the program and to each other. And then to not be able to see the whole thing through now is obviously disappointing. Looking at the bigger picture, I think this [crisis] is an opportunity for the individual to grow while facing these challenges. How these guys handle this time is going to be important. They have to face what we’re all facing right now, and you couldn’t have predicted this kind of situation and this type of challenge, but they’re going to be able to look back at this and say, ‘Man, that was a trying time, but what an opportunity we had to grow.”

Keeping on Track With Hopes of a Spring Season Looking Futile

“For us, from a training standpoint, we’re using the remote learning platform—Canvas—which we’re using for our students and for our track kids,” Ken Browner, boys track and field coach, said. “I’m posting workouts to them, and they’re giving me feedback. They’re keeping track of their own development and sending that info back to us so we can catalog that and try to keep up with their progress as best as we can. It’s not a perfect system, not being right there with the athletes, but it is the best that we can do at this point, until we’re allowed contact with them again physically.”

Browner described how he is working through obstacles with his athletes amidst the hurdles—pun intended.

“My kids will send me videos, and then I will link those up to the Huddle app where I can write comments and send those back to them so they can see where they’re at mechanically,” Browner explained. “We’re trying to do everything—as humanly possible— to coach these kids as best as we can without being there in person, and it’s difficult and it’s frustrating, but we’re all in the same boat.”

The most recent correspondence sent out by the IHSAA at the time of publishing indicated that the association was still planning on having a spring sports season and spring tournaments.

“We’re all in, and we’re staying as positive as we can,” Browner emphasized. “But we’re also trying to get these guys to understand that nothing is guaranteed in this world, and just because we expect to have ‘season’ every year, we may not. This [crisis] is unprecedented. But we have to prepare for our season as if it’s going to happen. And if it doesn’t come to fruition, you have to then move forward with whatever your next plan is. I have seniors that still have to plan on going to college even though their track season might be forfeited here.”