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Back to school in Pueblo
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By Ernest Gurulé

For the last six months, educators have been tying themselves in knots putting together plans for the restart of school. But unlike years past, they’ve never had to plan around a deadly microbe. But this school year isn’t a normal year, not even close. And now it’s time to learn if all this planning will pay off.

Coronavirus has already killed 163,000 Americans including more than 3,000 Coloradans and its trajectory is still rising. Now, with summer winding down and classes set to begin across the state, it won’t be long before finding out if these best laid plans work as designed or go awry.

“Our leadership team has made some very difficult decisions…smart decisions,” said Dr. Donna Souder Hodge, CSU-Pueblo’s Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Director of Organizational Development.” Its first decision when Covid-19’s lethal run began last March was to close the school and “move all courses on-line.” It also ordered “employees to remote work.” The call was made two weeks before Governor Polis made a similar decision, she said.

In just days, school is once again set to begin. “Our students will be back August 24th,” she said, though it won’t be the campus they left last spring. “Faculty and staff will remain at 50 percent through the fall,” a decision made to minimize the threat of infections. Still Souder Hodge is confident that moves made last spring will pay off.

In something of a dry run to test things out for the traditional academic year, the school did not close completely over the summer. “We’ve had students on campus,” she said. And just as things will be for the fall, others took their classes on-line. Last spring the school bought hundreds of computers for students to ensure minimum interruption in education.

While many if not most of the school’s students are from Pueblo and southern Colorado, it also draws from out of state and internationally. A full 15 percent of its enrollment are also student-athletes, a good number from out of state. Planning was important, said Souder Hodge, in order to maintain enrollment at or near last year’s 3,800.

Planning was also essential for the rest of Pueblo’s schools which are also preparing for a new school year set to begin August 31st. District 60 oversees 30 K-12 schools. The District has formulated a plan that provides a number of options for students and families.

A plan released by the District and Superintendent Charlotte Macaluso charts out options for families and students. It includes “full in-person learning four days a week, with health and safety measures in place OR 100 percent on-line learning.” Other choices include a “hybrid model with two days in-person learning and two days of distance learning each week.” The District will also offer a “100 percent online instructional option” for families wishing to keep their children at home. All District students, said Macaluso, “will be issued a technology device,” either iPad for “K-1 students” or Chromebook for grades 2-12.

The coronavirus has created a whole new paradigm in education. Both District 60’s and CSU-Pueblo’s school year has been upended in so many ways. Football, as one example, will not be part of the plan. The sport has been moved to the spring, though depending on the virus, that could still change.

At the University, said Souder Hodge, it will be a whole new world. Plexi-glass, a new part of everyday reality, has been installed in classes and labs and dorm life will also take on a new twist. “There will be no visitors in resident halls,” she said. “It will change the feel of campus.” But until school actually starts, just how much it will change things remains to be seen.

As heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson once said of his upcoming opponent, “Everybody has a plan until they get hit.” But no one has ever had an opponent like the coronavirus, one both deadly and invisible.





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