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Pueblo schools staying ahead of the COVID curve
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By Ernest Gurulé

Pueblo’s class of 2021 will certainly have tales to pass on to their grandchildren about life in the age of the Coronavirus The stories won’t be hype. The virus has already killed more than 250,000 Americans and more than a few in Pueblo, as it has blanketed the country and the rest of the world leaving its brand on normal life.

In Pueblo, where there’s been a recent spike---in cases and deaths---from the virus, the school district has mobilized resources to ride out the storm. It hasn’t been easy. “I think we have learned a lot of lessons,” said Pueblo School District 60 spokesman, Dalton Sprouse of the virus. “We learned and found out what we were doing well and what we could do a whole lot better.”

District 60, the largest school system in southern Colorado with more than 15,000 students, has kept things together with a system that includes both normal classroom schedules for younger students and virtual learning for the high schools.There have also been a few stops and starts and more are coming.

A recent citywide surge in the virus caused the District to adopt uniform distance learning in the city’s high schools effective November 11th. Pre-K-8 will follow the same plan after the Thanksgiving break beginning Monday, November 30th.

The District’s two different teaching methods were not implemented without a lot of thought, said Sprouse. “In high school, they’re taking different electives, changing (classes) all day long.” Younger students, he said, are far less mobile, more often remaining in a single classroom for the length of the learning day.

No district, said Sprouse, wants to have disruptions like the ones the virus has caused. But the circumstances in this situation are different than any ever dealt with. “We wanted to give families the final decision…we know some families wanted to make their own decision.”

To maintain the best learning environment, the District took the bold and expensive step of ordering electronic devices for every student. Younger students were given iPads, high schoolers received Chromebooks. Families without internet or had a poor internet signal, said Sprouse, got Hotspots, devices that allow access to a Wi-Fi signal.

The virus has also caused a curtailing of fall sports in Pueblo, a traditional high school sports hotspot. CHSAA, the governing body for the states’ public schoolathletic programs, modified its 2020-21 athletic schedule to allow as much competition as deemed safe. It divided the school calendar year into four seasons. Currently teams are competing in football, softball, cross-country, golf and boys tennis. The course of the virus will dictate winter sports schedules, said CHSAA.But with the virus resurging across the state---and the country---any changes should not come as a surprise.

At least 18 counties in Colorado have moved to the second highest level of severity on the state dial, a single step away from renewed Stay At Home orders. With hospitals taxed to near limits with patients carrying the virus, the state epidemiologist expects the number of deaths to rise.

The Pueblo Department of Health and Environment announced that it has recorded an increase in COVID-19 cases in the city and county. As of last Friday, there have been 5,744 confirmed “positive and probable cases among Pueblo County residents.” The Department reported 74 deaths throughout the county since the beginning of the outbreak.

Earlier this month, Governor Polis called on Coloradans to rethink Thanksgiving plans and not travel for the holiday. “Colorado, I love you,” he said, “but this is an intervention.” He made the announcement on November 5th. “Cancel your plans to see others who are not in your household for the next few weeks to avoid spreading or contracting the virus.” He called the state’s situation “urgent and deadly serious.”

Pueblo District 60, said Sprouse, will do whatever is necessary to ensure the health of its students and school officials. “It’s not coming from our schools, it’s coming into our schools…we all have a part to play,” he said.





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