Elementary school students will be welcomed back onto campus after nearly a year of distance learning on Thursday, March 18. Students in transitional kindergarten through sixth grade, scheduled to attend the a.m. school day, will attend in-person orientations beginning at 8:10–10:40 a.m. on Thursday, March 18. Students assigned to the p.m. school day will attend in-person orientations beginning 12:25–2:55 p.m. on Friday, March 19.

Galt Joint Union Elementary School District (GJUESD) Board members made the decision to get kids back on campus through a blended learning model at a special board meeting on Thursday, March 4.

Preschool classes will also start up on March 18 and March 19, depending on which cohort (A or B) they have been assigned to. The timeline for middle school is dependent on the state pandemic metric level, which has been more restrictive than the elementary schools.

According to GJUESD Superintendent Karen Schauer, the district is anticipating 90% of their students to return to in-person instruction. Twelve teachers will continue to teach remotely full time, some of which had been serving students through the GLEE Distance Learning program since August.

“All teachers have wanted to be back with their students, teaching in the way we have been trained, but we needed to have a plan for a safe return,” Heather Wetzel, Galt Elementary Faculty Association (GEFA) president, said, “I am personally very excited to have all of my students return to campus.”

Wetzel has been teaching a small cohort on campus since November and acknowledges that teaching students both in person, while managing students through Zoom, is not the easiest nor best educational situation, but that local teachers are up for the challenge.

“[I] know that it is challenging to teach students in the class simultaneously with students on Zoom, but seeing their smiles and progress makes the struggle worth it,” Wetzel said. “Galt has amazing teachers that have really stepped up to accomplish so much with zero training. Lack of training is not the district’s fault at all. Training for this type of teaching didn’t exist, since this situation never existed before.”

Trustees also approved a MOU, which awards teachers a $750 stipend.

According to Schauer, the $750 is to recognize “the extra efforts and learning new ways to provide instruction or shift instruction during a changing pandemic, (and) are being recognized through this stipend.”

A task that Wetzel said has been daunting.

“The stipend in the addendum is to honor how much extra time all teachers have put in over the past year, as well as how mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting this has been for every teacher,” Wetzel said. “We know that it has also been exhausting for the students and parents, and we thank them for continuing to make education a priority when it seems the world is falling apart around us.”

Wetzel said that she and her fellow teachers have spent countless hours trying to learn independently how to teach in a way they have never been trained to do. Whether that was scouring the Internet for viable lesson plans, collaborating with other teachers or starting from scratch and using their own imagination.

“Teachers do not get paid anything after contract hours, and many of us are averaging 10-hour workdays, plus additional time on weekends and holidays,” Wetzel said. “Creating and/or finding lessons that are usable and relevant online is very time consuming and stressful. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars purchasing lessons that could be used for distance learning. Some of them great, some of them not so much, but you don’t know until you try them out.”

With 203 teachers in the district, the $750 stipend equates to just over $152,000. Schauer said COVID emergency funding would be used for the stipends.

The stipend is a second round of monies elementary teachers received to assist in this unprecedented educational environment. Like in years past, teachers received $400 in lottery funds at the beginning of the school year to be used at their discretion for school supplies.

To assist in welcoming students back on campus this month, school sites have been allocated a total of $18,000 in COVID relief funds to purchase supplies for their students. Some of those supplies include pencils, crayons, markers, notebooks and supply boxes.