For Waverly City Schools, being creative in maximizing space, while continuing to add extracurricular opportunities has allowed the district to expand in multiple directions.
“Our enrollment is growing, and our extracurricular opportunities are growing, as well as participation in those opportunities,” said Waverly City Schools Superintendent Ed Dickens during a recent interview.
During the 2019-2020 school year, a new building was constructed behind the high school, serving multiple purposes. According to Dickens, the building was funded by a donation from Tremco, which had done the roofing project on the school buildings. The money was donated specifically for extracurricular activities, and could not be used for another purpose.
“One of my personal goals as superintendent was to try to help improve every extracurricular activity. We wanted to upgrade their facilities in some way,” said Dickens.
“We were able to come up with this new annex to the high school where we could move the weight room, build a wrestling room and a coaches’ office, and also give the golf team a home base, which they have never had. We are furnishing it with a golf simulator. So for the first time ever, golf will have a place of their own. It was totally funded through that Tremco donation.”
Wrestling was added as an extracurricular sport at Waverly City Schools three years ago.
“During basketball season, our gyms are very booked. For the first three years, our wrestling team practiced in the intermediate gym. That was the only place we had where they could practice. There is a lot of effort in getting the mats out every day and putting them back every day. The mats have to be sanitized each time.”
According to Dickens, the intermediate gymnasium was a temporary solution, so the school district could see if wrestling was going to draw an interest with the students. It has grown each season since it was added — both from male and female competitors.
Prior to the construction of the new building, the weight room had been housed in a classroom near the high school gymnasium. A weight lifting/exercise/fitness class has been re-incorporated into the curriculum.
“We felt if we put this class back into our curriculum, it would possibly cut back on (sports) injuries,” said Dickens. “And it has.”
The high school classroom, formerly used as the weight room, is now being used for the ED (Emotional Disturbance) unit, which is for students who have behavior issues. That unit had been housed in the junior high.
“We wanted to move that unit from the junior high and into the high school building, because most of those kids are in high school. The ideal place was the classroom where the weight room was,” explained Dickens.
Another new extracurricular offering at Waverly is the addition of an Esports team, short for electronic sports, which is competitive video gaming. In its second year of existence, Dickens stated that the Esports program is growing as well.
The challenges of dealing with COVID-19 have been faced by every school district his year. Dickens shared about how the school district has worked to overcome it.
“It was a challenge at first, but people have adapted. Our challenge has been trying our best to keep everyone safe and getting everyone social distanced physically,” said Dickens.
“We started the year out thinking that we had done that fairly well. In the first month, we were still quarantining too many kids. So we spread their classrooms out, so chairs were against walls and cabinets. In the lunch room we had four people per table, so then we went down to two people per table.
“There was the push on creating a bubble. So we took all of the band kids out of the lunch room and had them eat in the band room. The volleyball girls went and ate lunch in a home economics room. The football players ate in our study hall. Our soccer players went into another class room. The bubbles worked out great. Our quarantining dropped. At times, we still had some kids quarantined, but the number was way less.”
Dickens also said a hybrid schedule was used for the junior high and high school students because the district could not guarantee social distancing. Students were split two groups, and followed a five days on and five days off schedule.
“We did Thursday and Friday, and then Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. We chose that schedule, so we could see every kid every week. I think it has worked out well,” said Dickens.
“Elementary went five days a week. We have kept them contained to their classrooms. They don’t have recess with everybody. They eat lunch in their room with their class. So every class is in a bubble. We were told if we could keep them three feet apart, that would be good.”
Another hurdle the school district faced was remote learning and getting more done online. Dickens said handling those issues now will make the district better in the future.
Like other schools in southern Ohio, internet connectivity has been an obstacle for some students.
“We have installed wireless hotspots here at the school campus and downtown. If a student needs to have internet access, there is an opportunity,” said Dickens.
“We have also purchased portable hotspots for those people who live far out and would find it harder to get to one of our remote hotspots. In some of the most remote locations, the hotspots wouldn’t work. So then we went to paper packets for those students.”
In having conversations with other school superintendents, Dickens knows they are dealing with challenges and doing what they can to handle them.
“Having Chromebooks (Google-based small laptop computer) helps. We already had a Chromebook for every student, but we didn’t send them home with them. We bought soft carrying cases that are almost like briefcases. Now that kids are used to taking Chromebooks home,” said Dickens.
“Taking Chromebooks home will continue in future years. I don’t know that kindergarten through second grade will take theirs home every night, but the other grades probably will. COVID has forced us to jump into that world. It has forced teachers to change their teaching practices.”