President Ronald Reagan’s 1985 Veterans Day Speech echoed around the American Legion during the Veterans Day program as the room stayed silent.
“Sometime back I received, in the name of our country, the bodies of four Marines who had died while on active duty. I said then that there is a special sadness that accompanies the death of a serviceman, for we’re never quite good enough to them — not really; we can’t be, because what they gave us is beyond our powers to repay. And so, when a serviceman dies, it’s a tear in the fabric, a break in the whole, and all we can do is remember.”
At the end of the clip, two Waseca trumpet students played taps for all of those in the military who gave their lives.
“To us, the American Legion and the VFW, it is very important to honor our past veterans that gave their lives and devotion to the cause for America,” American Legion Post 228 Commander Lamar Kuster said.
Kuster opened the program for Veterans Day with a speech honoring all veterans.
“It’s the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month. We pause to remember, reflect and honor our veteran, those men and women who are no longer with us and those who have served or are currently serving,” Kuster said. “With all that is taking place in our world today, it is imperative that we recognize the important work and mission of our military and also remember the great sacrifices made for our country.”
The posting of the colors by the American Legion Color Guard followed Kuster’s speech. American Legion Chaplain Shelby Barbknecht said a prayer for veterans, followed by the Waseca High School choir students performing “Thank You Soldiers.”
The Legion does a lot for the community and veterans, including the Honor Guard at funerals for veterans, and Kuster said it’s an honor to perform the duties with the Honor Guard at the funerals. Kuster gestured to his heart. saying, “It kind of gets ya right here. The first time I ever did that, when they played taps, that broke me up.”
The VFW and the American Legion Honor Guard demonstrated the flag folding ceremony as a new addition to the program this year. While they folded the flag the symbols behind each fold were read.
Every honorably discharged military veteran receives a three shot rifle volley and a flag folding ceremony at their funeral. The family keeps the flag that is folded and members of the Waseca American Legion and VFW members will refold the flag anytime if the family wishes it to be refolded due to fading or other reasons. The three rifle shots are also collected by the Waseca clubs and put into a bag that has the American Legion and VFW symbols on it for the family to keep.
“These ceremonies are bigger than any one person,” said Stan Kahl, the sergeant of arms for the American Legion Honor Guard. “It’s really a humbling honor to present a flag to a family and sometimes it’s tough.”
Ron Fuchs, the sergeant of arms for the VFW Honor Guard said Veterans Day is “just another day” for many people because don’t know what it’s like, but it’s a special day for those who served.
“It’s a chance for us to remember,” he said.
Waseca school counselors have been on hand to help students with their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Waseca School Board heard an update at its Nov. 12 meeting from counselors at Hartley Elementary, Waseca Intermediate School, Waseca Junior Senior High School and Waseca Alternative Learning Center. The update was for the board to feel more comfortable with how the district is supporting students’ mental health, Superintendent Eric Hudspith said.
“We know that our students and our staff are working extremely hard and this is trying times, both academically, socially and emotionally,” Hudspith said.
Lauren Forsberg, a counselor at Hartley Elementary, said students on average were doing well at the beginning of the school year with following cleanliness mandates, mask mandates and the sanitation rules. Students are still following many of the sanitation precautions, but staff is noticing students are becoming tired of wearing masks and they need more reminders to keep their masks covering their noses.
“I’ve had many students tell me they’re sick of them. I think on a deeper level it’s really starting to wear on them, just how much things are different,” she said.
The teachers and staff at Hartley also noticed students are behind academically compared to where they were last year, but teachers and staff are doing additional interventions to help students. The social, emotional and academic support happens during the students’ Bluejay connect time with Forsberg in each room once a week.
“A very common theme that I’m seeing is that students are often missing their friends in other Bluejay rooms,” Forsberg said. “They’re feeling a little, not claustrophobic, but they want to be with more kids and at the same time they also are very glad they’re back in school and are happy not to be at home all the time. I am noticing they’re pretty tired of everything going on and I’m seeing that a lot more.”
Forsberg said that the students who are struggling with regulations are mostly the same students who typically struggle with rules and behaviors.
“I am so glad that Hartley was able to have kids there four days a week,” Waseca School Board Chair Julie Anderson said. “Just the amount of time you’re talking about being there for students in your capacity and also being there for the staff too, if they weren’t at school four days a week that wouldn’t be happening, so that’s awesome.”
The staff, teachers and Forsberg are working to help students through COVID-19 changes and difficulties.
“A lot of the work that we do is relationship building, taking a lot of time to let students know that we care about them and teaching students how to ask for help and how to get the help that they need when they need it and that’s been going well,” Forsberg said.
WIS counselor Stephanie Hulscher said the staff at WIS make sure to inform the students of the expectations around social distancing, hand washing and wearing masks at all times.
“The first couple of weeks they expressed frustration over not being able to see their friends,” Hulscher said. “They’ve been accepting of this at this point and I think it’s because of the work of our staff of teaching expectations.”
Hulscher also checks in with every student, which includes a survey every year. She said students are responding on the survey that they enjoyed the relaxed environment of learning at home.
“They recognize that they would like to be back at school more days, but I was surprised at how well they were doing,” she said.
Teachers have worked hard to continue being flexible with the learning model for the students and keeping the content engaging for at home and in-person learning. Hulscher said she’s concerned that it could wear on the teachers and with the COVID-19 cases rising, she worries about how going distance learning will affect teachers’ “can-do” attitudes.
“I think you’re describing the resilience of your students, that they can relax a little bit more when they’re at home, but still appreciate being at school,” Anderson responded. “It’s really awesome to hear that. The fatigue is setting in, I think, for everyone.”
WJSHS counselor Paul Marlin said a vast majority of the students are complying with COVID-19 regulations.
“I think having that two weeks that we had to distance right away had us all like, ‘If we want to stay here we have to do all the steps.’ I think that was a wake up call and students are really falling in line,” he said.
One difficulty he mentioned the counselors are noticing is students not staying on a regulated schedule when not at school. Marlin said students follow one schedule five days a week and on the two days in-person learning they are following a different schedule. They have noticed students are not as engaged when they are at home, but in-person learning is where the most success is happening for students.
When students aren’t engaging or attending school, the counselors have started making home visits to offer assistance and ask the student what they need to help them succeed in school.
To help the students, the counselors are trying to meet with the students on their distance learning days either in-person or virtually so they are not being pulled out of the classroom learning that is essential with the teacher.
“The staff are working incredibly hard,” Marlin said. “Putting in lots of time, two different hybrid plans, plus a distance learning plan, it’s a lot. The counseling staff were meeting with even more kids, administration are doing more, but we’re doing it because we love kids and that’s where our passion is. I know it’s wearing on a lot of us, but we’re here to help the kids, so it keeps us going every day.”
Recently, the WJSHS counselors sent out an optional survey asking students how they are doing. Marlin said that 46% of the students who responded say they’re doing good and 10% are really struggling. Another question asked about the students mental health and 35% of respondents said their mental health is worse than before COVID-19.
“On a positive side, there are kids who have been struggling for years and COVID-19 has pushed them to say I need help,” Marlin said. “I’m sorry those kids are struggling and I never want kids to struggle, but I’m glad they’re realizing they need help and those kids are getting help that they weren’t before.”
The Waseca ALC also sent out a survey to the students last spring to check in on their mental health while distance learning and 55% of those check-ins responded they were not feeling good or bad about mental health and distance learning.
“As with most students, but more specifically with our ALC students, we see that students strive with structure and routine. This year alone we have aimed at providing a more streamlined process to support the students, including a check and connect time at the end of each day to allow our students to check-in with their teachers for additional support,” ALC social worker Natalia Pitts said. “Although we have aimed our services to give the most support to our students, we have still noticed an increase in mental health needs.”
She went on to say that this year alone there has been an increase of hospitalizations due to suicidal ideations and an increase of providing referrals to mental health therapy through the school-linked mental health services. A school-linked mental health therapist is providing therapy through telehealth.
ALC has had an increase in students using drugs or alcohol to cope with problems due to COVID-19.
In January 2021, ALC is bringing in the Minnesota Teen Challenge Know the Truth prevention program to inform students of the dangers and consequences of using drugs and alcohol.
“We appreciate the work that you’re doing, not just with our students but with our staff as well,” Anderson said. “You guys are vital to our buildings.”
COVID-19 cases due to community spread in Waseca County are “quite high” approaching the Thanksgiving holiday, county Public Health Director Sarah Berry said.
“We are in a really awful spot right now,” she told the Waseca County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday. “Our cases are going up significantly and that has implications for our schools.”
Showing the county commissioners a graph of new cases per week between March and October, Berry said the weeks of Nov. 1 and Nov. 8 would be off the chart because there’s been more cases than any previous week during the pandemic.
Waseca County had 29 new cases reported on Monday and 11 new cases reported on Tuesday, according to the Waseca County Public Health Department’s data. The county has had a total of 1,158 confirmed COVID-19 cases during the pandemic as of Nov. 17 and 10 deaths, two of which occurred in a private residence and eight occurred in a long-term care or assisted living facility, according to the data.
Thirty-seven Waseca County residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and four are currently hospitalized. When cases increase, hospitalizations typically increase a couple weeks later, Berry said.
Berry meets weekly with school officials to review the data when the case rate used to decide the learning model is released by the Minnesota Department of Health on Thursdays. Berry said she expects Waseca County’s case rate on Thursday to be 60 cases per 10,000 residents. But if that was calculated using last week’s data, it would 97 cases per 10,000 residents, she said.
School officials have done an “astronomical lift” in contact tracing the close contacts for students who are out sick and notifying families whose students were a close contact, she said.
“They provide guidance that the state right now is not providing to those families because the contact and trace investigations are significantly delayed and are, quite honestly, not happening at a regular rate right now in our region,” she said.
She noted that contact tracing in the community can be difficult because a person may be dishonest or have gaps in their memory about who they were around in the days before they became sick.
When a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, county staff will be distributing it while they are trying to handle the virus occurring at a regular rate in the community, on top of dealing with vacancies in the department, she said. The Public Health Department could potentially move to its continuity of operations plan, where it prioritizes its activities and ceases to provide some services, she said. The top services it will continue to provide are nutrition services on which families rely and care coordination to ensure older residents are safe in their homes.
Waseca Public Schools will switch to COVID-19 status level red and distance learning for kindergarten through 12th grade beginning Monday, Nov. 30 due to rising COVID-19 cases in the county.
The county’s 14-day case rate per 10,000 has increased to nearly 100 for the range of Oct. 31- Nov. 14, according to Superintendent Eric Hudspith’s email to families.
The school administration plans to review the data for the county again in mid-December to determine a potential return date to school for students.
“In working with our Public Health, Minnesota Department of Health and the Department of Education, the recent trend in our county is COVID-19 is rapidly increasing in Waseca County,” Hudspith wrote. “We also are seeing an increase in students and staff needing to be quarantined and we have had a small number of cases in our buildings, so at this time it’s appropriate to move to distance learning.”
Students in kindergarten through 12th grade will continue with hybrid learning through Nov. 23, followed by no school on Nov. 24 and 25 to allow staff to plan and prepare for distance learning to begin after Thanksgiving.
“We understand that distance learning presents challenges and many facets for students, families and staff to work through, Hudspith wrote, adding that more details will be given to families on Thursday, Nov. 19.
Waseca Public Schools have not made a decision on extracurricular activities because it is waiting on guidance from the Minnesota State High School League and from the Minnesota Department of Health, and will share updates when it’s possible.
According to Hudspith’s email, child care for kindergarten through sixth grade will be provided for Tier 1 workers only beginning Tuesday, Nov. 24, per Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order. More children will be allowed if there is room for more children and proper staff available, but the administration will contact the families.
Preschool will remain in the hybrid learning model moving forward at this time. For more information on childcare or preschool, contact the community education office.
“I would say that Waseca Public Schools has done an exceptional job at keeping the students and staff as safe as it can at mitigating the virus,” Hudspith said.
Hudspith stated in his email that there will be some in-person learning for certain students, such as those with special learning needs or those with classes that require hands-on experiences.
While in distance learning, meals will be served daily at the curbside sites at no cost to students.
“This has been a very difficult decision, as we know our work impacts not only students, but staff and the community as a whole,” Hudspith wrote. “Our hope is that this time provides us the opportunity to engage our students in a new way, and to diminish the spread of the virus to a point where we can re-enter safely as soon as possible.”
More information and updates will be discussed at the Waseca Public School board meeting on Thursday, Nov. 19 at 5:30 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center. This is also available on Facebook to watch live online.