Wayne-Westland Community Schools Looking Ahead to the Future
March 24, 2022
In the Wayne-Westland Community Schools District (WWCSD), "community" is at the heart of the district's mission to educate students to be responsible, contributing members of a global society. Wayne-Westland Community Schools Superintendent Dr. John Dignan says it was the community's assistance and encouragement that sustained school operations during the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. "I credit our school community, our staff and our students and our parents. We wouldn't have been able to make it through and do some of the unique things that we've been able to do if it wasn't for the support of the school community, they've been outstanding," says Dignan.
The district recently relaxed its mask mandate in response to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services' (MDHHS) recent decision to expire its public health advisory on masking in indoor settings, including schools. WWCSD has been fortunate to not suffer what some school districts and school boards across the country have endured with angry parents using contentious language at school board meetings and hurling accusations of impeding personal liberties with mask mandates. "Even though there might be opposing views, everyone has acted with class and integrity," says Dignan. "People are passionate about their positions and their stances, but they aren't disrespectful and I really appreciate that from our school community." Dignan adds that what some may not realize is that school districts are merely following safety mandates that have been set up by county health departments or state or federal agencies.
WWCSD has continued educating its roughly 9,500 students in the same manner districts across the state have these past two years, using virtual learning or a hybrid type of learning which puts students in the classroom for part of each week. Dignan say it was the students who adjusted the best to virtual learning and that their youthful resiliency gave them an edge over adult staff adjusting to the same virtual format. Dignan gives enormous credit to parents who also had to adjust to lessons being delivered to students at home via a laptop and to the home becoming the learning environment. "I think if you were to say an unsung hero in all of this has been the parents and guardians because a lot of times the tutoring and helping the children at home has really fallen into their lap," he says. This school year, students have benefitted from in-person learning and returned to virtual learning for only one week in January.
For many young people the pandemic has brought with is uncertainty, upheaval, and isolation, which has impacted the mental and emotional health of students, and as a result, their academic performance. Dignan concedes that students can't learn if they are food insecure, worried about home issues, or concerned about a parent or sibling. He says the social/emotional/mental health component of education must be addressed if students are to succeed, so in response, WWCSD has provided students and families a variety of resources to address issues related to mental health, physical health, financial difficulty, employment, and more. Academic supports such as variety of tutoring options are available to students as well. "It takes a village; we're all in this together," he says. "Everyone has been impacted in some way by this pandemic, some people more than others so we've been trying to provide wrap-around services to help support our students and families."
Looking ahead to the future and hopefully, a diminished pandemic, Dignan touts the $3 million Emergency Connectivity Fund Grant the district recently received to assist with remote learning, along with a $500,000 grant to add an engineering and small manufacturing academy to the district's career/tech center. An upcoming summer program will allow students to participate in job shadowing work-based learning. Youth athletics and cheerleading have found revival now that the pandemic and infections appear to be waning. "There are a lot of great things happening throughout the district. The turnout's been incredible, we've touched thousands of kids...and it doesn't happen without all of our people working together," he says. "It's really neat to see the community rally around and figure out what we can do different; the innovation is going to be pretty cool and I think it's going to impact us as we ride out of COVID-19 and it's really going to set up our district for a lot of success in the future."