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IU8 responding in time of need

Even though the buildings are closed, school is very much still in session for students in Bedford, Blair, Cambria and Somerset counties.

Since Gov. Tom Wolf closed the school buildings on March 13, the 35 school districts in the Intermediate Unit 8 (IU8) four-county region have been hard at work making sure students get their education. School districts are facing significant challenges but overcoming them to make sure kids get an education.

“As the Meyersdale Area School District strives to provide continuity of education to our students, the biggest challenge we have faced has not been the hardware or capacity needed to provide resources to children; however, the inequity in internet access across the 123 square miles of district and support within our families,” Tracey Karlie, superintendent of Meyersdale Area School District, said.

Students with no internet access are given paper and pencil packets to complete.

For teachers, the workday hasn’t changed much. You’ll find them providing live instruction to students via webcam, working with individual students and parents who have requested help and preparing their lessons for the next day.

Communication has been key to making sure students will not lose ground. Teachers are taking to Zoom, Google Classroom, Edmentum, School Messenger, email, phone, newsletters and every possible avenue to ensure they can be reached.

Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8 provides services for over 3,000 special needs students in the four county region.

“Getting services to our students has been our number one priority,” said Amy Woomer, chief education officer of IU8, said. “Our staff has been hard at work figuring out the best way to provide the services our kids need.”

Over 20% of the students not having access to the internet or a device at home to use is a challenge. IU8 has created a plan to reach all of its students and has been interacting with their kids for two weeks.

Launching a plan like this would normally take up to six months to put together a program of this size and our team did it in 10 days.

Although things might look a little different, every program will be doing something in order to keep students progressing — thanks to the dedication of our supervisors, teachers, and faculty, like social workers and occupational therapists.

In fact, districts as far away as California have been calling IU8 to ask for assistance as to how to best reach children in an online format.

For those curious about what will happen this September, Superintendent Alan Sell from the Bedford Area School District says they’ve been addressing this issue each year.

“Similar to the beginning of every new school year, teachers will assess students to find their current level of knowledge and ability,” Sell said. “With this information, teachers will meet students at their current ability level and teach from that point on. This already happens each year, so we’re equipped to adapt to students’ needs and help get them to reach grade-appropriate milestones.”

Local districts have also been tasked with continuing the school lunch program so students and families are not hindered by food scarcity during this time. Every day, up to 10,000 students in the IU8 region receive a meal from the school.

Meals are either delivered to central pick-up locations or families drive to the schools. Some schools have started food banks to assist further with food insecurity during these difficult times. Any family who needs help is encouraged to take advantage of these options for assistance.

Thomas Butler is the executive director of Intermediate Unit 8.

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