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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

DonorsChoose Provides Window Into How MPS Teachers Prepare For An Unusual School Year

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Emily Files
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WUWM
Students arrive at MacDowell Montessori on Aug. 16, the first day of school for MPS early-start schools.

Milwaukee Public Schools teachers are getting ready for all students to be back in classrooms for the first time in a year and a half, starting Thursday.

Last year, students did virtual learning until April, when about half came back to buildings.

One window into how teachers are preparing is DonorsChoose, a crowdfunding website where educators raise money for supplies beyond what’s provided by their district.

Gloria Hernandez, a bilingual kindergarten teacher at Escuela Vieau, turned to DonorsChoose to raise money for plastic bins and learning materials such as journals for writing and magnetic number boards for math.

She says the plastic bins will help separate supplies so students can work on their own to maintain social distancing.

"Most of the time, we won’t want them to share stuff, so we are going to use the plastic container to set up centers," Hernandez says. "And sometimes they are gonna be like working in a small group with me, but we are gonna try to – each child has the stuff that they are going to use."

Meredith Polewski turned to DonorsChoose to solve a similar problem. She teaches four-year-old kindergarteners at Neeskara Elementary.

"K4 is very different when you have to socially distance," Polewski says. "They can’t play in the house area together, they can’t sit on the rug and do puzzles together, they can’t sit in the writing station and draw together. Everything has to be done individually, so I’m trying to figure out how to do that."

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Meredith Polewski
Meredith Polewski's classroom at Neeskara Elementary.

To that end, Polewski is asking for a 44-piece LEGO set on DonorsChoose – so multiple students can have their own toys to play with.

"I asked for more LEGO people, because that was something last year that when I split LEGOs up, I didn’t have enough people – I had a bunch of bricks but didn’t have a lot of people, and without people LEGOs aren’t much fun," Polewski says.

Aside from materials that will support social distancing, teachers on DonorsChoose are asking for sanitizing supplies and other COVID mitigation-related items. Polewski is requesting a touchless soap dispenser and reusable children’s face masks.

"Four-year-olds chew on everything," Polewski says. "So every student needs to have multiple masks available to them throughout the day because they will chew on it and get it wet and gross and need a dry mask."

Polewski is glad her students will be back in the classroom – she says virtual school does not work for four-year-olds. But with COVID cases high in Wisconsin, she’s worried.

>>As COVID Cases Plateau, Milwaukee-Area Officials Worry About Hospitals And Schools

"I am so stressed out about keeping my babies healthy and knowing that I don’t have much control over it," Polewski says. "No matter what I do, if [coronavirus] is getting in my room, it’s getting in my room."

About 40% of MPS students are on the early-start calendar and have been in schools since Aug 16. In the first two weeks of school, there were 153 confirmed COVID cases among students and staff.

Hernandez, the teacher at Vieau, is glad MPS had a sort of practice-run last year, when about half of students returned to classrooms in April.

"Last year, when some of the kids come back, we did a really good job," Hernansez says. "And this school really don’t have to close. Following all the rules – kids can do it. They’re going to need a lot of reminders, it’s going to be a lot of repetition, but they can do it."

Teachers will find out what this school year’s new normal looks like, beginning Thursday – the first day of school for most MPS students.

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