Administration and faculty have spent the last week frantically planning what distance learning will look like since Gov. Tim Walz ordered Minnesota schools close from March 18-27 due to COVID-19 concerns.

That period was designed specifically for schools to outline and narrow their plan as much as possible. Ready or not, distance learning begins on Monday at schools across the state. All involved, from teachers to principals, agree that this will be a daily learning process as teachers attempt to maintain relationships they have with current students and start them with new ones.

“I think people will be amazed at some of the things that are going to be happening,” Princeton Superintendent Ben Barton said.

“We’re super-proud of what’s going on. Some of the innovative creativity of the things our teachers are doing blows my mind. I keep hearing about new and different things and it’s amazing. A lot of neat things are happening.”

“We have developed a framework for our distance learning plan that will allow students to continue this school year as seamlessly as possible,” Milaca High School Principal Damian Patnode said.

“The focus for all of us is going to be maintaining relationships first. We need to teach content as well, but flexibility and meeting students where they are at are what we are trying to do first and foremost.”

Princeton Public Schools have had experience with distance learning, and Barton said they would’ve been ready to implement it immediately, if needed.

Instead, staff used the eight-day planning period to fine-tune their plan. Jessica Town-Gunderson, Princeton’s director of teaching and learning, said students will connect with teachers daily, though not necessarily for traditional lessons.

Students and teachers will be communicating through various technology tools such as Zoom Meeting and Flipgrid.

“To ensure equity and uncertainty in these uncertain times, all instruction is being designed to be available on demand,” Town-Gunderson said. “Students accessing teachers non-electronically will have robust lessons, conversations and support through traditional modes of communication.

"All students will receive high-quality instruction and practice on the skills most important for their grade level.”

Princeton will be implementing separate plans, labeled the “Orange” and “Tiger” plans.

The Orange Plan is for students to connect non-electronically with teachers, while the Tiger plan will use electronics.

Princeton’s design process for distance learning was centered on the five C’s: Collaboration, Communication, Content, Critical Thinking, and Creation.

“We have prioritized maintaining student-teacher relationships and caring for our students’ social and emotional needs for connection, community, structure, and normalcy,” Town-Gunderson said.

She added: “We are creating relevant learning plans to be delivered in ways we never dreamed of before today. We are being diligent about ensuring that students at every grade level know and are able to do the most important things. School will look much different than it has, and we are intentionally planning for student connection with teachers to remain strong.”

Milaca’s plan structured

Milaca High School students will have more of a structured day, Patnode said, with set times to be checking in with their classes. The elementary school plan will look similar.

Like Princeton, Milaca is stressing the importance of relationships in addition to lesson plans.

“Three things we’ve tried to focus on with staff are patience, compassion, and grace,” Patnode said. “We know that this is going to be a change for everyone, and as time goes on we will continue to make changes.

"We are going to offer patience, compassion, and grace to our students as we roll this out, and we ask that families offer the same to us. We really believe that this is going to make our educational programs stronger and more accessible for all students.”

The Union-Times will continue to provide education-related issues regarding COVID-19 on its website, unionandtimes.com, as they develop.

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