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In response to increasing financial strain on child care providers, the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation awarded nearly $255,000 earlier this month to both home-based settings and centers across the region. While some are needing to bolster their capacity for distance learning or increased participation, others are seeing a sharp drop in enrollment as families face pandemic-related unemployment or underemployment. (Photo courtesy of Red Bird Hills Photography)

Waseca School District boosts morale with cruise around school

Waseca teachers miss their students.

The Waseca Public School District teachers and staff held “Smiles for Students” a drive-through cruise around the Junior and Senior High school to boost morale for students to complete the school year strong.

As students, their families and community members drove through the route around the school building, laughter and cheers could be heard from the staff and the students. While cheering and laughing, the staff rang cow bells, waved pompoms and held signs for students and families to read. The Bluejay mascot was also out waving pompoms with the staff to cheer on the students.

Bailey Grubish / By BAILEY GRUBISH bgrubish@wasecacountynews.com 

Waseca Public Schools staff made signs to wave at students as they rode by the school with the Bluejay mascot cheering for the kids as well. (Bailey Grubish/Waseca County News)

“This is mostly to bring smiles to the kids faces,” Waseca Intermediate School sixth-grade teacher Jana Kestel said. “To be able to wave at kids to let them know we are thinking of them and to come together.”

Students of all ages rode through the cruise around the Junior/Senior building.

High school students came by the groups with some riding in the bed of a pickup truck and others riding on a tractor. Kids could also be seen in the back seat of vehicles waving and holding their own signs for school staff appreciation.

Bailey Grubish / By BAILEY GRUBISH bgrubish@wasecacountynews.com 

Students hung signs out their windows to thank the teachers and show support (Bailey Grubish/Waseca County News)

“We are trying to encourage our students and let them know how much we miss them,” Hartley Elementary Kindergarten teacher Gayle Wickersheim said. “This gives them an opportunity to see us and us to see them.”

So many students and families were excited to participate in the cruise to see the school staff that the Waseca Police Department and the Waseca County Sheriff’s Department did traffic control. The line to enter the route was backed up on Hwy. 13 from the school sign to Burger King at one point.

Bailey Grubish / By BAILEY GRUBISH bgrubish@wasecacountynews.com 

Waseca Public School teachers and staff wave at students as they ride past. (Bailey Grubish/Waseca County News)

The parade was supposed to be from 6 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. and at 7 p.m. the line of participants in for the cruise was still backed up.

“It’s been awhile since we’ve seen them so it’s nice to see them,” Sophie Straube said.

Bailey Grubish / By BAILEY GRUBISH bgrubish@wasecacountynews.com 

A group of students rode on a tractor as they went through the parade waving to staff. (Bailey Grubish/Waseca County News)

This event was organized by three teachers from the school district with the help of all staff’s participation on the day of the event. Kestel, Jackie Wolfe and Laura DeWees are the organizers who thought to bring everyone back together for a night.

Bailey Grubish / By BAILEY GRUBISH bgrubish@wasecacountynews.com 

Jana Kestel, Jackie Wolfe and Laura DeWees are the organizers of the parade for teachers and students to see each other while distance learning. (Bailey Grubish/Waseca County News)

“We had so much hope to get back together with our students and this is the best opportunity to see them,” Wolfe said.

Daycare centers in Waseca County make adjustments due to COVID-19

Daycares and daycare centers are making changes to procedures and operations for the safety of children, families and staff.

In Waseca County, COVID-19 has limited some of the daycares and centers to only offer services to essential workers.

At Grace Garden child center, located in the basement of Grace Lutheran Church in Waseca, is currently open Monday through Friday 6:45 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. for kids of essential workers.

In March, when the announcement was made to send students to distance learning Grace Garden took about two weeks to clean, plan and monitor the situation to reopen to serve the families in need.

The staff of Grace Garden follow the guidelines from the Waseca Public Health Department and the Minnesota Department of Health on how to continue operation.

One change that has been implemented is the church is locked with only church staff allowed in, so drop off and pick up has been adjusted. The daycare staff meet parents and children at the door and screen for fevers and wash the kids hands before taking them to the center.

Additional cleaning and sanitizing has been added to keep the kids and staff safe each day.

“Our enrollment and staffing is limited and I have a great team of flexible and willing people who are helping to make this work,” Grace Garden Director Tricia Vasquez said.

Grace Lutheran Church recently approved a grant to allow the childcare center to pay the staff who have been furloughed. This grant will allow Grace Garden to pay the furloughed staff for eight weeks. After the eight weeks a new plan will be evaluated.

“I am so thankful for the support of the church during this time; they are willing to put up with a little more ‘presence’ than normal,” Vasquez said. “We are confident that God continues to be in control of this entire situation and will not be taken by surprise, and we’ll keep trusting him as we come to work each day.”

At Waseca School Age Care in Waseca, also known as the Jay’s Nest, changes can also be seen as a direct result of COVID-19.

The Jay’s Nest is only open to tier one and tier two essential workers for free of charge.

Tier one workers are in healthcare, law enforcement, food and agriculture, judicial branch and numerous other occupations. Tier two essential workers are those working in water, energy, critical manufacturing, communications and many others listed on the Minnesota official website.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and the Commissioner of Education came up with a plan that includes childcare for at least tier one employees to be offered for free for district and charter enrolled students.

Another change implemented to help limit the exposure at the Jay’s Nest is class sizes have been cut down to a maximum of six kids to one teacher in a room.

Other procedures have been added such as no gym or auditorium time with numerous classrooms. The kids are no longer using lockers and there is distance learning for those kids who are of preschool age.

“I’m very impressed with our families and staff’s ability to roll with new things,” Jay’s Nest Program Director Katie Staloch said. “Everyone’s been pretty awesome with all of the changes.”

Waseca captains Ryan Dufault, Kyreese Willingham and Andrew Morgan hold up the 2AA south subsection championship trophy. The trio have all gotten looks to play in college but the recruiting process has shifted due to COVID-19. (Nick Gerhardt/Waseca County News)

Staff at St. Olaf’s Piper Center for Vocation and Career greet students via the video-conferencing platform Zoom. According to Senior Associate Director Kirsten Cahoon, her team has been working with employers to try and find ways to make internships remote and project-based, as similar opportunities become more challenging to find due to COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of St. Olaf College)

Waseca City Council moves forward with two projects

Waseca City Council met to discuss two pedestrian traffic projects around the city.

The council is not holding in-person meetings due to COVID-19 at the moment, instead it is meeting over the phone and allowing residents to call in to speak.

While the council is meeting separately over the phone it is still moving forward with projects and business.

A new project the council accepted a bid is for the fabrication of a pedestrian bridge, which is a part of the city’s long term trail plans.

This pedestrian bridge will connect the east end of 19th Avenue NE with the trail that runs between the Clear Lake Trail and the constructed stormwater treatment site located north of 10th Avenue NW.

The accepted bid was from Wheeler Company of Bloomington in the amount of $53,800. According to the council packet this bid was slightly lower than what the engineer estimated.

This pedestrian bridge is part of the Northeast Trail Construction Project and is included in the 2020 budget. Funds will come from the city’s capital improvement plan and Minnesota DNR Trail Grant Funds that the city was awarded. The DNR Grant is funding the bridge and city staff are building the trail.

After the bridge is constructed there will be another quote process to get a contract to install the bridge.

Another project that has been in the works for the past year is the planning and designing of the pedestrian safety project along Hwy. 13 in front of the Junior Senior High School. The council approved the cost share agreement with the school district, which confirms a verbal agreement that the city and school district had.

Over the years this stretch of Hwy. 13 in front of the school has been a location of pedestrian-related incidents due to students crossing to get to school.

This project involves a crossing of Hwy. 13 near 17th Avenue NE as well as a trail/sidewalk running along the west side of Hwy. 13 from 15th Avenue N to 19th Avenue N. There is also a trail from the crossing to the high school parking lot and front entrance.

The city hired Stantec for the project. To fund this project the school district will fund 25 percent of the costs that are not funded by grants and the city will fund the remaining 75 percent.

Grants have been secured by the Minnesota Department of Transportation to pay for the construction and construction supervision portions of the project and the City will be responsible for cost overruns in those areas as well as the costs associated with designing the project

The school board will have the agreement on the agenda at the Thursday, May 7 meeting.