Area schools prepare, enter first week of distance learning
By Anna Jauhola
Educational instruction geared back up this week for local schools thanks to the hard work of teachers and staff.
Although distance learning will be a new challenge for both educators and parents, administrators at Lancaster and Hallock are confident everything will go well.
On Thursday, March 26, Gov. Tim Walz implemented a stay-at-home executive order and extended school closures until May 4 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Superintendents at Lancaster and Kittson Central schools anticipated the closure could last longer than the initial eight days, which had been declared on Sunday, March 15.
“We’re going to learn a lot next week,” said Shannon Hunstad, Lancaster superintendent. “Thank God, honestly, that we have the tools for the means to connect.”
Each school has the basic plan of delivering paper packets and other materials students need on a weekly basis, either through parent pickup or by bus route. And so far, all students have internet connections. Wikstrom Telephone in Karlstad has been a big help to boost signals or provide service through the closure to those who didn’t have service before.
Kittson Central provided devices to students who needed them.
Lancaster was able to send home each student with a device – second through 12th graders took home Chromebooks and kindergarten and first graders took home iPads. The school purchased these devices with grant money, said Hunstad.
Otherwise, each school’s teachers have their own plans, which vary from classroom to classroom.
Teachers at both schools plan to use Zoom, Google Classroom, email and other digital means to stay in touch. Students are expected to check in every day for attendance, which schools are still required to take. Some may check-in by email, others will fill out a form on the schools’ websites. Both superintendents said teachers have been diligent in planning how to handle the situation.
“They’ve been working on how do we maintain contact and encourage students. At the same time we know parents’ lives go on too,” said Bob Jaszczak, Kittson Central superintendent. “This is not homeschooling. This is public schooling provided by our schools. We need the parents to assist, but they are not responsible for the delivery of the content.”
Jaszczak and Hunstad recognize this will be a strain on families and don’t want it to become overwhelming. They agree the focus at this time will be to deliver more quality content and less volume, while still connecting with students.
Lancaster will deliver or have parents pick up paper packets on Mondays, while Kittson Central will do so on Wednesdays. COVID-19 can live on paper up to 24 hours and each school is handling that situation differently. Lancaster will receive papers from students every Monday afternoon, place those papers in a sealed tub and teachers won’t touch them until Wednesdays.
Lancaster teachers will be in-house every Monday and Wednesday to hold regular class times via digital communications.
Kittson Central will not be taking back any papers sent home. Instead, teachers are working on different ways to see homework whether that be through filling out information online, email or taking a photo to send to a teacher.
“It’s a moving target,” Jaszczak said, adding they’ll find different ways to handle things as the closure continues.
Both schools will continue lending books out to students, as well as taking them back. Books students return to each school will be quarantined for a certain period before returning to circulation. Lancaster will allow students to check out books twice a week while Kittson Central will allow lending once a week.
Students who are taking industrial technology classes at Lancaster and Kittson Central will continue with their studies as well. Hunstad said students will be allowed to check out tools to complete projects they’re working on.
“If they need a router or whatever, as long as the parent approves it and knows it’s coming, I said I’m wide open to it,” Hunstad said. “I just think we have to. I think if we’re supposed to supply education, we need to keep it as realistic as we possibly can.”
Industrial technology students at Kittson Central will also have similar access, should they require it. Jazczcak noted that many students in Kittson County have access to tools at home, but should they need a certain tool not available to them, the school will provide it.
The Kittson Central Family and Consumer Science students will also continue working on their quilts, thanks to teacher Diane Younggreen being able to send home sewing machines with those who do not have them at home.
Jasczcak and Hunstad said the meal programs have been going well and acknowledged the hard work put in by kitchen staff. Kittson Central’s Jamie Turner and Roxanne Ogorek, as well as Lancaster’s Alana Scalese and Heather Anderson, and any helpers, have been “phenomenal.”
This week will prove to have a strong learning curve for teachers, staff and students. Hunstad and Jaszczak said the situation is fluid and what may happen this week could change next week.
“We’re going to do our best to limit the source of frustrations, because we realized there’s going to be a level of frustration that’s going to hit just about everybody,” Jaszczak said. “For the most part, a little bit of grace is going to be important.”