Lacey Erickson and daughter, Tiyanna Schott, pick up supplies for online classes at the Britton-Hecla School on Monday. Governor Kristi Noem mandated on Tuesday that schools be closed through May 1.
School Staffs Adjust To Help Kids
The world has ground to a halt on many fronts in the past two weeks due to the coronavirus, but local educators are using technology and good old-fashioned ingenuity to make sure the education of area youth continues.
On Tuesday Gov. Kristi Noem extended her recommendation that schools be closed through Friday, May 1. All spring sports practices and competitions are also cancelled through Sunday, May 3.
“This has been and will continue to be an unprecedented situation for our school staff, students, parents and of course the public as a whole,” said Britton-Hecla Elementary Principal Kyla Richter. “I can’t express how proud I’ve been of everyone who has given that extra effort to make this a smooth, safe and feasible transition for our students.
“In the uncertain weeks ahead, our goal is to not only provide an education but to be mindful of the stress and anxiety that also may occur,” added Richter. “We would like parents to reach out if there is anything else we can do help. It’s a time to BE BRAVE and show our resilience.”
The B-H school was open on Monday from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. for students and parents to come in and pick up items from lockers, classroom materials, and computers for grades 3-8 with the number of people in the building limited to six at any given time. High school students already had computers at home and parents of children in grades K-2 had the option of checking out computers if a home computer is not available.
“I’m proud of how quickly the staff responded to the disruption and how willing they have been to help when needed,” said B-H superintendent Steve Benson. “As with the entire community, this has totally disrupted our normal routines and has forced us to adjust and think outsides of our comfort zones, and the staff has been extremely creative.”
Paper bag breakfasts and lunches are also being made available for pickup on school days from 7:55-8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. at the Guidance Office entry on the west side of the high school.
The Langford Area School distributed learning packets to students on Tuesday for the upcoming week. Staff put books, papers, assignment sheets, and whatever else would be needed for the week into packets on Monday. Buses drove regular routes on Tuesday with staff member on board to deliver those packets. Students living in Langford picked up their packets that staff delivered curb-side between 8:30-9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
LA superintendent and elementary principal Nipp said plans are to distribute packets and pick up any papers done by students for teachers each Monday for as long as the school remains closed.
Students in grades 7-12 have school computers at home. Elementary students in grades 3-6 use i-pads at school, but for now those will not be sent home. Anyone not having a home computer may contact the school, and internet companies are also supplying free internet for students during this time if needed. Teachers have also provided students with cell phone numbers to enhance communication.
“I’ve really been proud of the teachers,” said Nipp. “They have just stepped up. I couldn’t have asked for better cooperation from teachers and parents. It’s definitely a community effort.”
Currently, the Langford Area School is not providing breakfasts or lunches at the school. Its Home Plate Program provides food on weekends for some families and that will be enhanced. A survey was sent home in the packets this week to determine if there are additional food-related needs. Nipp also stressed that families needing food assistance during the school closure should contact him.
Staffs from both schools have worked hard in the past week to plan ways to continue education outside the classroom. In many cases teachers had already been using online tools, including online textbooks, and that has helped the transition.
“The kids are already used to using things like Google Classroom, and some of the teachers have already been using a program called Loom, which allows teachers to record themselves and their computer screen at the same time,” said B-H high school principal Carrie James. “I also think that maybe close to 70 percent of our textbooks are online.
“I told the teachers that it won’t be perfect, and there will be some bumps along the way, but it will be interesting to see how the first week goes,” added James. “We will look at what worked and what didn’t and what we should change moving forward. There will be lots of trial and error, but I think we will all grow and probably be better teachers, students, and administrators when we get through it.”
One thing that administrators focused on was coming up with a plan that wouldn’t overwhelm parents or students.
“We wanted to try and come up with the easiest and most practical way to start incorporating an online delivery without overwhelming people,” stressed Richter. “But most of our curriculum already has an online component attached to it, so it’s a pretty fluid transition as far as curriculum goes. It’s a matter of using online platforms to teach. I am so proud of our staff and how they have adjusted and changed and were able to come up with a plan for their students. I feel the same way about our parents and I’m proud of the community. Everyone has stepped up to the plate and made this all work.
“I think one of the positives that will come out of this is an increase in parent engagement. Parents will get a pretty good insight as to what happens throughout the school day. It has also challenged our teachers to be creative and flexible and has really been a professional development extravaganza,” added Richter.
“The benefit to the students is that we are still in contact during our time away and still making steady, albeit, slower progress toward finishing the school year,” added Benson. “Hopefully we will get the opportunity to come back to a normal schedule at some point, and if we do the students should benefit from not having as big a gap in their learning and less regression.”
With Governor Kristi Noem warning South Dakotans that severe measures could go on for at least eight weeks, there is a possibility students could finish out the school year at home.
“We could finish out the year with this,” said Nipp. “When we look back on it hopefully we will say that it was not perfect but there was learning taking place and kids were using some of those critical thinking skills.”
“I think we could get through the year relatively easily,” noted Richter. “Of course, it would involve a lot of parent support. We would need that parent support component to be able to achieve that.”
Administrators feel that even though students are not in school, continuing classes in other ways gives students and parents a sense of normalcy in trying times.
“I think we need to provide stability for our students and our community,” said Nipp. “Schools need to lead that, and I think kids and parents are really ready for the school to provide opportunities for kids to get their brains working again.”
“I know my kids have been getting bored, and it’s fun to see kids reacting to this and getting excited about a few things,” said James. “When we have our Christmas or summer break, there is a buildup for those times, but this is just so sudden. We were all still in school mode because we weren’t preparing for anything, and I think getting kids back into a little bit of normalcy isn’t a bad thing.”
“Part of the discussion I had with teachers on Friday was that they worry about the kids’ fear and living in the unknown,” concluded Nipp. “COVID-19 is such a mysterious thing, and we don’t know how long it is going to last or what it is going to do to our community, state, and families, but we just have to keep moving forward. I don’t really think the biggest thing is the educational challenges but rather the environment we’re doing it in.”