The COVID-19 pandemic has caused people to pivot and change the way they do everything \u2014 and this is especially true for schools. Indianapolis-area schools have adapted and grown in many ways, such as setting up quarantine areas in school clinics and hiring extra substitute teachers. Schools are already making plans to help the next year go as smoothly as possible, but what will 2021-22 look like for students and parents? Some students who have been e-learning are eager to get back into the classroom. But as Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township learned, families want options. \u201cWe are offering instructional program choice of full in-person, hybrid or full virtual learning for the 2021-22 school year,\u201d says Dr. Tim Harshbarger, Assistant Superintendent for Schools. Dr. Dana Altemeyer, director of communications for MSD Lawrence Township, explains that 67 percent of students learned in-person last year, while the others learned via a virtual or hybrid method. Harshbarger adds: \u201cWe kept our focus on meeting the needs of the kids, both academically and social\/emotionally, while keeping the learning environment as safe as possible. Honestly, kids were at home so much in the spring and summer , they really were motivated to get back to school and see friends, even if that meant wearing a mask!\u201d The return of co-curricular events, like sports, music and theater, was a game changer for students attending school in-person. MSD Lawrence Township had to become creative, doing such things as staggered rehearsals, having the choir rehearse in an outdoor atrium or even the loading dock behind the high school. With more research and science available on COVID-19, schools can improve their decision-making this school year, whether it\u2019s in classroom layout, social distancing, or offering bottled water and personal protective equipment in schools. \u201cWe have learned a great deal about contract tracing and quarantining,\u201d Altemeyer says. \u201cWe quarantined a lot of staff and students throughout the year; however, we also believe that led to far fewer positive cases in our schools.\u201d MSD Lawrence Township developed a COVID Re-entry Task Force Team to help navigate the onslaught of information on school re-entry, according to national, state and county guidelines. Having this team already formed will undoubtedly help the district work with community partners to help with testing and vaccinations into the school year. Given that the district now has access to student-issued Chromebooks and experience navigating connectivity issues, they will be even better prepared to educate students in a variety of ways when schools start in the fall. Teachers will go into the year with virtual classroom experience, having offered classes \u201clive\u201d as well as asynchronous workplans. Schools have also adapted to connecting with parents and prospective families virtually, hosting online meetings in lieu of conferences. Related Post: Important Life Skills Your Child Learns in Preschool Keeping the public informed via regular parent and staff updates was always high priority, and that is one area where schools have thrived. In their decision to operate in-person as much as was safely possible last year, The Orchard School made significant modifications to schedules, events, and learning spaces. And this meant getting students, staff, and families on board. \u201cEstablishing the physical distancing protocol was probably the single greatest obstacle,\u201d says Nick Eble, Assistant Head of School for Orchard. \u201cGiven our school's penchant for experiential, cooperative activities, we had to recalibrate our expectations. We modified many of our longstanding traditions and grade-level highlights.\u201d That said, Eble is proud of the way the staff kept student experience at the center of the conversation during these challenging times. \u201cOrchard students arrived each and every day as excited to be here as always, and we worked diligently to live up to our nearly 100-year history of engaging, hands-on learning,\u201d Eble says. In hindsight, Eble says the challenges presented last school year only strengthened the values they\u2019ve always held dear at Orchard. \u201cLearning is a social act, and being together is the best way to accomplish our collective goals,\u201d he says. \u201cYes, we did learn about new ways to use technology to extend our classrooms into people's homes. But when it comes down to it, that will never replace the impact and importance of working together, in person, in a diverse community of classmates.\u201d As schools open this year, administrators are already keen on finding ways to leave the frustration, grief and disappointments of the past school year behind. \u201cObviously, there were hard moments, but we all knew that we were working to create the best learning environments and experiences we could, given the public health constraints imposed by a global pandemic,\u201d Eble says. Looking forward, Eble hopes to keep students and staff motivated by celebrating learning through shared moments of joy and lots of laughter. \u201cWe frame our work through the goals of love, connection and learning, and that really helps guide us through the year,\u201d he says.