“The positives far outweigh any of the challenges we’ve had so far this year,” Principal Jason Reinecke said.
Despite the countless hurdles West Ottawa had to jump to open school, the first two weeks have been largely successful.
Reinecke said, “I just am really proud of our students and how they’re handling this.”
Reinecke is proud that the students are respectful about wearing masks. “The student body has really bought in and has really, like I said, committed to keeping us safe and healthy. We’ve had very few issues with masks. We’ve had very few students who didn’t want to wear a mask or felt like they didn’t need to.”
Even diligent mask wearing did not completely block out COVID-19, though. From September 1 to September 11, the high school has had three positive students as confirmed by the Ottawa County Health Department. Trace contacting was conducted in all three cases, and close contacts have been identified and have been quarantined.
When a student tests positive for COVID-19, West Ottawa’s administration follows the Ottawa County Health Department’s guidelines. Reinecke explained, “The first step that we take is to begin what is called contract tracing, and we have to try to identify any students who were in close contact to the student who tested positive. A close contact is someone who is within six feet for 15 minutes or longer. So in terms of how schools typically operate, you’re really looking and starting at the classroom level. [For example] who sits within six feet of that individual?”
The process quickly shifts to the Ottawa County Health Department. WO provides the list of the student who’s positive and the close contacts. The Health Department works with students and the families to determine how long they need to quarantine.
However, being in close contact to someone who has tested positive at school is not the only reason someone might quarantine. “It could mean that they’re just not feeling well and they’re waiting for their test results,” Reinecke said.
Some students wonder how they will know if they have been in close contact. Jr. Carlos Marroquin is in quarantine until September 16 after close contact with someone who tested positive. Marroquin said, “Mr. Oshnock called me down to the office and told me I might have been in close contact to someone who tested positive and that I needed to stay home for 14 days. For education [during quarantine], I read the textbooks for my classes and my teachers have been sending me assignments to do.” Marroquin’s experience prompts him to ask that everyone wear their masks and sanitize frequently.
Instructor Jeremy Heavilin is currently in quarantine as he was a close contact to a student who tested positive. Ed Hollis is guest teaching. Hollis compared guest teaching to past years. “It’s a little bit more difficult because my glasses keep fogging up. Plus then I have to clean everything once [the students] leave. But other than that, there’s just a bunch of wonderful people here at this school, and I always have fun with you folks.”
Even though the guest teacher is in the classroom, most of the instruction takes place online from the teacher at home via Google Classroom. In Heavilin’s class, the guest teacher is just there to help the students if they need it.
Two students in Heavilin’s first hour talked about the challenges of learning while Heavilin is in quarantine.
Sr. Bella Kephart said, “It’s kind of hard because for me as a learner I know I really depend on personal interaction with teachers. And having to do all my assignments online is hard because I feel like I’m not really grasping the material as well as I could be if I had a teacher explaining it to me. But I know it’s really hard for teachers because they want to teach the best they can, but they can’t if it’s jeopardizing the health of their students.”
Sr. Ava Wegmeyer said, “With my teacher now in quarantine, it definitely is more challenging to learn, especially since this is an AP level class.”
Reinecke would like to encourage the student body to continue to stay committed to following the safety protocols in place. As the year progresses, students must be careful to not loosen up on the rules.
Reinecke said, “My biggest fear or concern is that we…kind of let our guard down with masks and social distancing that we’re someday put in a situation where we’re back to remote learning.”