While three area schools – Mid-Prairie High School, Hillcrest Academy and Pathway Christian School – opted for mandatory distance learning, the rest of the schools have made distance learning voluntary for students.
Teachers at the voluntary schools have had their own set of challenges with keeping their students engaged.
“We’ve provided some online materials, and we’ve provided some off-line materials,” said Ames Molsberry, a third grade teacher at Mid-Prairie West Elementary School. “We try to do as much as we can to cater to all of our families. We know some of them don’t have the resources that other families have.”
Michelle McCarthy, a second grade teacher at Highland Elementary School, said she made up some paper workbooks for her students, but some parents did get them.
McCarthy said she understands that families are dealing with a lot of issues with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are kids who cannot do the work during the day because they are at daycare,” she said. “Others have multiple siblings and only one device to use. This makes it hard for all the kids to get online.
“I have some students who have the needed equipment but just don’t do the weekly lessons that are assigned.”
The Mid-Prairie school district realized early on that access to technology could be a stumbling block for some families.
The district purchased several Internet “hot spots” and distributed them to families who did not have Internet access. They also offered devices to families who did not have them.
“I have 19 second-graders this year, and they now all have Internet,” Mid-Prairie East Elementary School second grade teacher Kerri Bell said. “One did not, and I got in on the second batch to deliver a hot spot.
“We sought out families that did not have a tech device at home that was compatible with the links we are using. In my classroom, two of those students needed that option.”
Technology is playing a major role in delivering lessons to students.
Molsberry said he holds a Zoom video conference every Thursday at 11:30 a.m.
“I do a Zoom meeting every Thursday at 11:30 for consistency,” he said. “Students know they can show up at 11:30 and see other students to help that social bond.”
McCarthy said she has had to learn how to do video conferences.
“I’ve never held a virtual meeting, so I spent a good amount of time online learning how to do a Google Hangout,” she said. “I hold weekly virtual meetings, so kids can see their friends and honestly, so I can see them. We use this time to do some fun things because I worry about how they are doing emotionally.”
Mid-Prairie Middle School language arts teacher Denise Busch said that teachers in all four core areas send out emails to parents and students every Monday.
“Those activities are organized and pushed out to each teacher’s Google Classroom,” Busch said. “All of the teachers are using some form of blended learning. All of the core teachers are having office hours, that way if a student has questions, they can drop in on Zoom.”
The teachers acknowledged that distance learning presents challenges to students and teachers alike, and that their top priority is doing their best for their students.
“This is a stressful time and I wish I could give hugs to my kids,” McCarthy said. “We are all trying to figure things out and get into some sort of routine. All we can do is to take things day by day.”