The current school year has been full of significant changes for staff, students and their families.

Virtual learning, different schedules, canceled events and limited outside interaction have all been part of the landscape. What that has meant is volunteers, assemblies, and other events have not been part of the typical school day or after school.

For programs like D.A.R.E. or SEEDS After School, the pandemic has meant altering what they do or stopping altogether due to safety protocols at the school to limit student and staff exposure to outside sources.

Wexford County D.A.R.E. officer Cory Lipar said the sheriff’s office is still doing its due diligence within all the county’s school districts whenever possible, but as far as getting into the classrooms that has not happened.

“With COVID, scheduling class time and restrictions kids have to get in the classroom, we haven’t been able to get in there,‘ he said.

Currently, Lipar said fifth-graders in Cadillac — including St. Ann School — Manton and Mesick participate in the D.A.R.E. programs, while Buckley had interaction with the sheriff’s office through various assemblies. D.A.R.E. — which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education — was founded in 1983 and gives kids the skills they need to avoid involvement in drugs, gangs, and violence.

Although the program is usually thought to be a drug and alcohol-based program, Lipar said it has evolved over the years. Now, D.A.R.E. is focused on teaching students to say no to all things that can cause health issues instead of just saying no to drugs and alcohol.

“We aren’t teaching just saying no because something is deemed ‘bad,’ but rather because it can negatively impact your health,‘ Lipar said. “It could be an illicit substance to legal ones like tobacco, alcohol, or vaping. It also can include too much sugar.‘

He also said the program focuses on being safe on social media and of course bullying is a topic of discussion.

With COVID changing how Lipar does his job as the D.A.R.E. officer, he said the plan and hope are that the program will operate normally in the fall. That likely will mean fifth and sixth-grade students will participate in the program since this year’s fifth-graders weren’t able to.

He said there also is a chance some programming could occur this spring but with the current uptick in cases, it isn’t likely. If it can’t be done in sixth grade, Lipar said they could do various assemblies about making healthy choices and staying away from substances that could hurt their health.

SEEDS After School Program Director Sandy Ehlers said the pandemic has impacted each of the 11 program sites differently.

Currently, the program is in Marion Elementary School, Fife Lake Elementary, Forest Area Middle School, Jewett Elementary in Mesick, Rapid City Elementary, Kaleva Norman Dickson Elementary, Brethren Middle School, Betsie Valley Elementary, Cherry Street Intermediate and Benzie Central Middle School.

SEEDS is a 501c3 nonprofit organization formed in 1999 to implement local solutions to global challenges at the intersection of ecology, education, and community design. SEEDS’ goal is to foster healthy, vibrant communities filled with clean food, great kids, and helpful neighbors.

SEEDS After School programming began in 2009 and focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics as well as getting students out-of-doors and active. Students at grant sites have access to free programming four days per week and during the summer.

The programming is offered free to families within the district after school for a total of 32 weeks. During the school year, the program is usually offered four days a week, generally Monday-Thursday for an average of three hours per day. Summer programming also is part of the program and is free to families in the district. It too is usually for Monday-Thursday for an average of 4-6 hours a day.

“(The pandemic) has affected each (program site) in a different way. Some schools were able to go back almost as normal with normal programming, while others were virtual until fairly recently,‘ Ehlers said. “Because we cover a large geographical area, it depended on what the schools would allow for their after-school program.‘

In Marion, Ehlers said since the schools have been open for the most part, they have had in-person after-school programming with a few minor closures. That doesn’t mean, however, that there haven’t been changes to the program.

Normally, the program would have all grade level students participate together, but during the pandemic, they have kept the students distanced and in cohorts. Ehlers said that means each cohort comes for in-person programming once a week and is given take-home projects to complete the rest of the week. Normally, she said they are altogether four days a week.

As for what the future may hold for the remainder of the current school year or next year, Ehlers said that will be up to the individual school districts to decide.

“We will take our cues from the schools. We use their facilities and if they feel we need to cut back, have fewer students or if they end up closing again, then we will have to follow suit,‘ she said. “We are hoping that isn’t the case, but it could be.‘

Last summer, the program used take-home boxes and Ehler said those worked out great. She said the program is 99% outdoor-based in the summer so they wanted to make sure they kept that as much as possible. They also didn’t want to add to the screen time students were getting.

With the positive feedback from the take-home boxes, Ehler said that will be something they continue to use moving forward. Each box has between seven and 30 days’ worth of activities with specific instructions on how to complete them. After that, students bring them back or they can share them on Zoom or Google Meet.

“The take-home activity boxes have been great and we will keep them in some form,‘ she said. “The students have loved them and parents have loved them.‘

Cadillac News