It took a while for Manhattan High School senior Will Bannister to fully process what the cancellation of in-person classes for the rest of the school year would mean for him.
Bannister, who is the student council vice president, had been to Costa Rica for spring break, and following the initial postponement of in-person classes for two weeks, Bannister said he was glad to have that time to catch back up after his 14-day quarantine.
But when Gov. Laura Kelly announced that Kansas would be the first state to close school buildings for the rest of the school year, that’s when Bannister began to think what that meant for the end of his senior year.
“It took me a while to wrap my head around what that would mean for prom and graduation and spring sports,” he said.
Now with classes resuming online, Bannister and other Manhattan High School students are adjusting to classes that are now structured a bit more like college courses than high school classes.
Across the Manhattan-Ogden school district, teachers have raced to adapt their classes and learning structures for education outside of the classroom, but at Manhattan High, the challenge is perhaps a bit greater given the size of the student body — about 1,800 students — and the dozens of classes offered at the school.
“Take away siblings, we have probably 1,700 different schoolhouses right now, when everyone’s home becomes a school,” principal Michael Dorst said. “There’s different schedules at those homes right now, that we have to be aware of and respect.”
When it issued guidance to districts on what they should expect from students, the Kansas Department of Education recommended that middle and high school students spend no more than three hours a day on classwork, split in 30-minute increments between classes.
But at MHS, students won’t be expected to finish that daily work on a set schedule, and the school won’t have a “bell schedule” for its online classwork, Dorst said, given that families may have different schedules or technology needs.
For teachers, the challenge now becomes deciding on what elements of the curriculum are essential, and what elements can be left out, now that their time with students is more limited. While the teachers are looking at just the next few weeks in crafting lesson plans, they also have to keep in mind where students might be when regular classes resume.
“Our teachers are thinking to the future, the next time our students are in class,” Dorst said. “Where will they be able to reach out and fill those gaps we may experience through the last semester of the school year?”
High school students will still receive letter grades, Dorst said, rather than having the school switch to a pass/fail system. But in maintain the grading scheme, Dorst said teachers are putting students into a position that will allow them to keep or improve their existing grades as long as they stay engaged and communicating with their teachers.
Teachers also will offer office hours for students to contact them each day, and Dorst said the school is working to develop a central location for students and parents to find out when each teacher’s hours are.
“Teachers are being really responsive to us,” Bannister said. “They make sure they have office hours for students to ask questions. I don’t think we yet have a firm grip on how the rest of school year is going to work, but teachers are doing a great job of making themselves available to each student.”
Although classes only officially resumed Wednesday, teachers and administrators have been working for the past few weeks to create continuous learning plans for their classes. Teachers also called each of the high school’s families to conduct wellness checks and see what those families might need, and as of Friday morning, the teachers had received more than 1,700 responses.
At the school building, a skeleton crew of essential administrators and office staff have kept the school going, Dorst said, and it was that crew that has been serving as the interface between teachers and the Manhattan community.
Dorst said the rest of the semester will look different, with several spring events cancelled or postponed. National-level Advanced Placement testing for the school’s advanced students will continue in May, although testing will be done remotely and will focus on comprehension, rather than regurgitating facts, Dorst said.
All activities and athletics for the rest of the year were canceled, but Dorst said the school is looking to figure out ways to still conduct things like National Honor Society inductions and student council elections.
But even with those events, some students are still losing out on sense of structure that the school routine provided, particularly with extracurricular activities or senior year staples like prom.
“We’re not doing sports anymore,” Bannister said. “The school play was canceled. There are a lot of hands-on activities that happened every day that were really important to students that just aren’t available anymore.”
The school is still working on a plan for graduation, but with not much known about the next two days, much less the next two months, Dorst said it’s a question of waiting for more clarity on the situation. In any case, the school will look to try to find a way to have a graduation ceremony that is as close to traditional as possible, he said.
“People my age have mixed opinions on graduation and prom being canceled, but I think that deep down, all of us secretly regret that,” Bannister said.
Since classes resumed Wednesday, the student council officers have started doing virtual daily announcements, shared on social media each morning. Bannister said the student council is now hosting a virtual spirit week each week, instead of just twice a semester, in an effort to maintain a sense of school community.
“Having our kids being back involved in the school day, even if it’s different, brings a sense of community,” Dorst said. “No matter how much we do though, it’s going to be different, and it has been harder. But being able to be back in school on Wednesday was a welcomed point of the last month.”