Teachers all around Minnesota are back in their classrooms this week as they prepare to see students in-person for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic abruptly sent children home last spring.
Desks are organized to keep students socially distanced and classrooms will be fitted with sanitizing equipment and masks, all while teachers and kids are prepared to go back to distance learning at a moment's notice. It needn't be said, but 2020 is about to get even more challenging for Minnesota educators.
Margo Kleven, the principal at Rice Lake Elementary in Maple Grove, has taken her back-to-school approach with a glass half full, musical approach. She created a distance learning-based music video set to the tune of Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World."
"I thought it would be fun to capture all our new learning and vocab generated by virtual teaching. I had originally wanted to create it and send it to staff at the close of the 2019-2020 school year, but the end of the year was such a whirlwind, I just couldn’t get it done," Kleven told Bring Me The News.
"It was just as appropriate at the start of the year, as we were swimming in the same virtual waters. I wanted to create humor around a very taxing situation."
She said the part of the video where she becomes emotional is due to how much she cares about the staff at her school.
"At Rice Lake, I am so fortunate to be surrounded by stellar human beings....people who teach and love with their entire beings. They possess the most willing spirits, and believe everything is possible...supporting each other, both professionally and personally," Kleven said. "I feel it so deeply, and when I reflect on it, like in the song, it chokes me up. I am filled with gratitude to call the staff not only colleagues, but friends."
Osseo School District is among numerous Minnesota schools that have delayed the start of the school year by one week, going from an original start date of Sept. 8 to Sept. 14. The first two weeks of the year will be distance learning for all students, followed by a move to a hybrid model on Sept. 28.
Returning to school as a high-risk individual
Not only is going back to in-person instruction a challenging step for Kleven and her colleagues, but it also means she's entering a world of greater transmission risks associated with the disease as a high-risk individual. Kleven is a blood/bone cancer survivor, having worked the majority of last year while undergoing chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.
"For the last five months, my family has remained pretty low key ... not going to restaurants, traveling, etc. So returning to work is a big step for me, in opening up my exposure," said Kleven, whose 30-year career in education includes five years at Rice Lake.
"It has been a little over a year since my stem transplant and five months since my last post-transplant chemo session. Obviously, I feel a little vulnerable, but I have completed all my immunizations so I know my body is toughening up! I know I need to be diligent with masking/hand washing etc. ... and it will be absolutely painful for me not to be hugging on kids, but I just have to practice self-control."
She said she always has the option to reconsider her work status with her oncologist, but at the same time she's "not ready to be done with work yet."
Kleven was diagnosed with multiple myeloma after waking up with back pain in November 2018. She underwent 10 radiation treatments on her spine before transitioning to a chemotherapy regiment.
"I was at Mayo for six weeks for that procedure, and returned home in June of 2019, to recover. I had about nine months of post-transplant chemo, and that ended March of 2020, right when COVID shut the schools down," she explained.
Multiple myeloma is treatable, but there is no cure. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), having cancer increases a person's risk of severe illness from COVID-19. The CDC says it is not known whether having a history of cancer increases the risk.