Back to school

Area schools hope for successful, healthy school year

Photo courtesy of Jill Morgan From this submitted photo, St. Pauls’ Lutheran students pose for a photo at the school’s playground in New Ulm.

As the 2021-22 school year begins, area teachers, principals, superintendents and staff are hopeful and optimistic for a successful nine months of academics, athletics and activities.

The end of the 2019-20 school year saw cancelations, distance learning and difficult decisions being made as COVID-19 concerns and cases picked up. While schools still had plenty of challenges to deal with last school year, teachers and students adjusted to get through the year successfully. This school year, area schools are hoping to get back to work safely and effectively.


The enrollment for New Ulm Public Schools (NUPS) grades K-12 was 2,147 students (147 seniors) as of Aug. 23. NUPS began classes for fifth-graders and freshman on Aug. 30, with grades 1-4, 6-8 and 10-12 beginning on Aug. 31 and kindergarten starting on Sept. 1.

NUPS Superintendent Jeff Bertrang said the main focus this year will be working in the COVID environment and continuing to help kids grow.

Photo courtesy of Tamara Klawitter/New Ulm Area Catholic Schools From this submitted NUACS photo, students eat outside of New Ulm Cathedral High School.

“COVID’s not going away — we have to learn how to work and live in the COVID environment,” Bertrang said. “I think most of our staff understood that, did a great job. Now we brought in new staff, we have to get them acclimated to how we do business. But really we’re focused on instruction and getting the kids to grow in a positive way each and every day.”

Bertrang said keeping the schools mentally healthy will be a key this year.

“We had a strategic plan review, we put up a new plan for the next three years for the district — it’s really about how we’re going to take care of everybody we can and meant to be a key component,” Bertrang said. “Mental health, self care, watching out for signs for kids — because everybody is still mentally tired, they’re stressed. COVID hasn’t gone away. ‘Do I pay bills? Do I have a job? Is my kid going to get sick?’ All these things weigh on everybody and that has an effect to how kids operate in the school. So how do we take care of that?”

A major new addition this year for NUPS will be the opening of the Career Technical Education (CTE) Center that offers advanced CTE courses. It is located on 208 North Valley Street.

Homecoming is Oct. 1 for New Ulm High School this year, while the Senior Prom is penciled in for April 30, 2022.

Photo courtesy of New Ulm Area Public Schools From this submitted New Ulm High School photo, students pose for a photo during a cooking class.


New Ulm’s Minnesota Valley Lutheran (MVL) High School and St. Paul’s Lutheran School began classes this past week.

MVL began its year on on Aug. 30 for freshmen, with shortened morning classes and mixer games with the Student Council in the afternoon. The first day for Grades 10-12 began Aug. 31. There were 225 students enrolled this year as of Aug. 23, with 68 seniors.

MVL Principal Timothy Plath said that the school has added teachers Mr. Anthony Norrick and Mr. Kirk Schauland to the faculty. Norrick will serve as MVL’s Learning Coordinator, teaching several classes and leading directed study halls. Schauland will serve as MVL’s Director of Technology, assisting students and staff with technological needs in daily lessons. Plath also said the school was beginning a 1:1 initiative this year that will place a laptop or Chromebook in the hands of each student.

Homecoming for MVL is Oct. 1, and MVL’s Veterans’ Recognition Program will be on Nov. 10.

Photo courtesy of MVL High School New MVL teachers Kirk Schauland and Anthony Norrick pose for a photo outside of the high school in New Ulm.

St. Paul’s Lutheran started school for Grades 1-8 on Aug. 31, while preschool and kindergarten began on Sept. 1. There are 301 students in grades K-8 and 46 preschool students enrolled this year.

St. Paul’s Principal Pete Markgraf said the school has adjusted from last year.

“While planning last year, we were marking off six-foot distances throughout the building, making use of all of our space,” Markgraf said. “Teachers were preparing for all three models of learning. This year we have been making more arrangements for more space that comes with a growing enrollment. The teachers have been focused on one model for learning.”

New to St. Paul’s this year is a VEX Robotics kit, while new after-school clubs are also currently being planned. The school is also adding a “Gaga pit” to the playground area.

One special event coming up at St. Paul’s is its “Summer Send-Off.” It will take place at 5 p.m. on Sept. 11 and is open to the public. It is a complimentary carnival-style event, and those in attendance are invited to stay for HermannFest fireworks.

Markgraf said the goal for St. Paul’s this school year was teaching students how to respond to Christ’s love.

“Our goal for the school year is to teach and train each child to fix their eyes on Christ and to respond to his love as contributing members of their families and community,” Markgraf said.


New Ulm Area Catholic Schools (NUACS) has an enrollment of 398 total students this year, with 181 students in grades 7-12 and 217 in grades K-6. There are also 25 preschool students this year and 27 seniors.

Classes began for all grades on Aug. 30. Homecoming is Oct. 8 this year, with the parade at 2 p.m. and a week of other events prior to that.

A day later on Oct. 9 is Pumpkinfest, while Snowfest takes place on Jan. 21, 2022. A date for the Senior Prom is yet to be determined.

A big change for NUACS is bringing preschool back. Mrs. Molly Helget will be in charge of that program. There will also be a new Journalism class run by Ms. Gabby Budenski, who has worked hard all summer on the new class offering.

An all-new NUACS system website was also created by Mrs. Erica DeVries and Ms. Budenski.


Beginning its school year for students on Aug. 23, Sleepy Eye Public Schools (SEPS) began with an enrollment of 525 total students and 40 seniors.

SEPS Superintendent John Cselovszki said that planning for the school year was easier due to the experience gained from last year.

Cselovszki also said he’s hoping for more normalcy this school year while keeping students safe.

“We are just hoping to return to normalcy as much as possible,” he said. “Hoping to get back to the personalized learning approach that we could not do last year.”

Homecoming is on Oct. 1 this year for SEPS, while the Senior Prom is scheduled for May 7, 2022.



Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s Catholic School began its school year on Aug. 24. It has 260 students enrolled this year from grades K-12, with 20 seniors.

St. Mary’s Principal Peter Roufs said the school has learned a lot from last year and believes the school will be ready to accomplish their goals this year.

“We learned a great deal from dealing with the pandemic for the last year and a half,” Roufs said. “We were grateful that we were open for in-person learning every day of the school year last year. We were able to do this with great cooperation from our students, parents and community. Our teachers went to great lengths to accomplish in-person learning and at the same time provide distance learning for the students that needed it. This year we feel we have a good idea of what could occur and believe we know what is necessary to accomplish our goals as a school.”

There have been several building projects completed at St. Mary’s recently, such as a renovated and reorganized library, renovated locker rooms and AC/Heating units added to the high school and middle school classrooms. There was also a new art class added and another online platform for students to increase class choices.

Homecoming this year is on Oct. 1, while the Senior Prom is scheduled for April 23, 2022. Catholic Schools Week will be from Jan. 30-Feb. 4, 2022.

Roufs said that he’s hoping this year sees a sense or normalcy for students.

“We hope for a sense of normalcy for the students this year,” he said. “We strived to have that last year, but with the mandates that occurred with masking and social distancing, that was a challenge. Our students were extremely courageous and persevered, however, it took its toll on them and all the staff.

“At St. Mary’s we strive to form the whole student, that is physically, socially, mentally, and most importantly spiritually. Not having barriers and having normalcy will help us achieve these goals more effectively and that is our hope.”


Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop Schools’ first full student day of class is Sept. 9. There are 55 seniors at GFW this year, while final enrollment was unavailable at the time this edition of The Journal went to press.

GFW Superintendent Jeff Horton said that GFW is looking to get students back to school safely this year.

“GFW has welcomed the opportunity to partner with our community, staff, students and health officials to keep our students safe while prioritizing in-person learning,” Horton said.

Homecoming is Oct. 15 this year, while the date for Senior Prom is yet to be determined.

This year, both school buildings in Gibbon (Elementary) and Winthrop (Middle School, High School) will now have new reading and math interventionists to offer extra support to students in those areas. GFW has also added several new programs for students in agriculture, arts, law enforcement, medical centers and many other areas.

At the high school, students will see expanded course offerings, CTE, and College Now classes, as well as work-based learning. A new student services coordinator will also be at the high school.

Horton said GFW’s goal this year is to “continue Growing Future World Class Leaders.”



(*All guidelines/requirements subject to reevaluation based on school’s situation and state/federal recommendations.)

Here are some guidelines provided by area schools for dealing with COVID-19 this school year. All schools listed below had no mask requirements in place when classes began other than on buses, which was federally mandated.

New Ulm Public Schools: Distance learning is not offered as an option. Distancing, full-speed ventilation, sanitizing and other precautionary measures are in affect similar to last year.

MVL/St. Paul’s: St. Paul’s has a 10-day quarantine period for those exposed to/in close contact with someone with COVID-19 and will not offer distance learning. MVL will only offer distance learning to those who are quarantined or sick.

New Ulm Area Catholic Schools: NUACS is currently taking recommendations from the diocese and is looking forward to a very normal year.

Sleepy Eye Public Schools: No virtual learning options are offered, however sick students can complete assignments that are posted on the Google Classroom or Schoology platforms. If someone is considered a close contact, staff will inform the parents and ask them to monitor their student for up to 10 days. Students are not required to miss school, but the best recommended practice is to quarantine unvaccinated close contacts at home for 10-14 days and get tested if there are any symptoms. There will also be an increased attention to the school’s ventilation systems, along with prohibiting direct drinking from water fountains. Students/staff are asked to bring their own water bottles to be filled.

Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s Catholic School: Students with symptoms of illness are asked to remain home. There will be distance learning for students who are required to be at home due to COVID.

Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop Schools: The school district strongly encourages families to learn more about vaccinations and consider getting vaccinated. There will be an online learning option offered this year which is intended for students attending full courses for the quarter, semester, or the school year. Students may start online learning at any time with principal approval, but they will need to create a transition plan to come back to in-person learning with the building principal or designee.


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