It was the first day of school last Monday, March 30, for District 110 students.
Well, the first day of a new kind of school.
With classrooms across Minnesota shut down at governor’s orders over COVID-19 concerns, last week marked the launch of something called “distance learning” in Waconia Public Schools and other public schools around the state. Many private schools launched a week earlier.
A significant component of the curriculum is “e-learning” or online learning.
School principals shared their first-day experiences with the Waconia School Board at a “virtual” work session last Monday via a technology platform similar to what students were using, and we reached out to a few families last week for their first impressions.
While there were some glitches with popular learning management systems like Schoology and Seesaw, along with occasional Internet/wi-fi issues and family disruptions at home in new and tight learning quarters, the consensus seemed to be that the first week of distance learning went fairly well.
“We are one week into our distance learning plan and we’ve experienced both highs and lows,” Waconia High School Principal Mark Fredericksen wrote in a letter to parents. “Our teachers have reported how great it was to see and reconnect with their students. While we’re all adjusting to Zoom, Google Meet, and any number of other tech-based learning tools, students seem genuinely happy to move back into school mode. It felt like the first week of school again.”
And with that first week came some excitement and some trepidation.
One parent said that while her children “were missing the comfort of the daily school routine and emotions were running higher than normal over technology issues,” they also “were becoming more self-sufficient and learning how to learn in a different way.”
Another said that while her children “definitely miss lunch, school activities and seeing friends and teachers at school,” she called online learning “less distracting” and indicated her kids “feel like they are learning.”
She said it helped to get distance learning instruction in advance of the real thing and that teachers are reviewing previous lessons and “easing into material slowly so everyone can get used to the new style.”
“We appreciate the teachers coming together and working this out,” one parent said. “It’s got to be much more work than a normal school day.”
“From a social-emotional perspective, this is a big adjustment because everyone is missing the energy and face-to-face interactions of the school setting,” said Kathy Oliphant, director of Teaching and Learning for Waconia Public Schools. “That said, never doubt the ability of a group of teachers to come up with amazingly creative and clever plans.”
“I think that ISD 110 has come up with an amazing structure and framework for distance learning that balances providing engaging learning experiences but also acknowledges the reality of family circumstances,” said Sally Hockinson, Bayview Elementary kindergarten teacher. “In some ways, this time has created distance for us as colleagues, but in other ways we are collaborating more closely than ever. So much growth and learning will happen for all of us. Deeper connections with families also are being made.”
Curriculum for a distance learning school typically includes some live instruction through online Zoom or Google meetings at set times throughout the week, instructional videos, online reading assignments, and interactive tools and tests. Students also are able to email their teachers at any time.
Language and band instruction utilize programs like Duolingo or SmartMusic.
“Some of these programs may stick with our kids long after they leave certain courses,” said one parent.
Meanwhile, local elementary schools are working to keep the school community connected with the usual Monday morning announcements, birthdays, Pledge of Allegiance, also recorded and live read alouds.
In terms of the older students, some said they appreciate the pre-packaged aspect of distance learning. Instead of spending an entire day in different class periods, they are able to review classroom videos and assignments at their pace, and sometimes have the course work completed in a matter of a few hours, leaving time open for other things. Of course, there are a lot of other things they are missing, like spring sports, concerts and other school events.
“I am very proud of how everyone came together in a very short period of time to develop and deliver a caring, kid-first, District 110 distance learning program,” said Superintendent Pat Devine. “We also appreciate the patience that students, parents and staff all have for one another as everyone adjusts to this new way of learning.”