It is hard to believe that it has been almost a year since COVID-19 began to grip our state causing a major shift in the delivery of education to students. I recently read an article about education in 1937 during the polio outbreak. The photograph with the article showed several children huddled around a radio receiving what was labeled as “radio education.” Class schedules were printed in newspapers and district leaders had no idea how many students were actually participating. Fast forward 84 years. We have computers and email, smart phones, social media and the internet. Think what might have happened during our current pandemic if those were not yet developed.

Over the past six months, you may have heard the school district use the acronym, PRAT, which stands for the Pandemic Response Advisory Team. This team was established in August 2020 as a response to guidance outlined by the Minnesota Department of Education in the Safe Learning Plan released last summer.

PRAT is a collaborative effort of two dozen individuals from both the school district and community. This team consists of parents, high school students, school board members, health services staff, principals, teachers, our athletic director, operations staff, and the district’s leadership and communications team.

The thorough and thoughtful work done by this team has been nothing short of excellent. PRAT has been and will continue to be an instrumental part of the district’s COVID-19 response. Each week, the team evaluates the current COVID-19 situation. A tremendous amount of time each week is spent reviewing COVID-19 case data in the county and our schools, analyzing trends, and listening to each other’s concerns and suggestions. The team works to make the best recommendation to the superintendent and school board when a change in the IHD learning model (in-person, hybrid or distance-learning) is warranted while also providing critical communications feedback.

The diverse group of stakeholders allows a 360 degree view of every learning model scenario. Students share safety feelings and concerns, discuss how the present learning model is going, and share experiences from classmates and friends. Parents share their thoughts and feedback from other families including the mental well-being of students. Teachers share stories regarding student engagement and provide feedback from teachers in their respective buildings. The results of PRAT’s deep and rich weekly conversations have brought a tremendous amount of value to our district.

A snapshot of data reviewed by the PRAT is available on the district’s website.

The light at the end of the tunnel is brighter as the vaccines become available for our district teachers and staff, and as community members continue to support health and safety measures. As the district works to further navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to know that every member of PRAT will continue to work hard to keep our students, staff and community as safe as possible, informed, and focused on continued, lifelong learning.

Kristi Peterson is the chair of the Shakopee School Board. Peterson also serves on the finance, community engagement, and citizens’ communications advisory committees. Peterson was elected to the school board in November 2018.