The announcement April 24 from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz that schools would continue distance learning for the remainder of the school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic brought a flurry of emotions from students, parents and instructors
“The impact of the continued shut down will hopefully translate into making distance learning work better and better...building upon the positive "new territory" achieved with the current distance landscape,” said English teacher and head cross country coach Michael Brunsberg in an email. “As a language arts instructor, I'd say that student writing has been a strength within the Google Classroom platform. May that trend continue!”
With families having students in different grade levels and parents possibly working from home, study and work spaces in garages, living rooms, basements or simply where there is space are standard, according to social studies teacher Robby Grendahl. Grendahl said his house is a “one-house school house” with a daughter in high school, a son doing college classes online and him and his wife teaching.
The news of the schools remaining closed came with “disappointment, frustration, and sadness” as well as “resilience and positivity,” which Grendahl noted in an email that he has seen in the students. Grendahl also thanks the school administration and community for their support during this time.
“We are doing what we always do in education, we adjust to the situation for the well-being of our students,” Grendahl said in an email.
He noted adjustments including “words of encouragement” electronically, homework packets delivered home and students having “adult responsibilities” like caring for brothers and sisters.
As a parent of a senior, Grendahl could not hear the news without thinking of the class of 2020, who have made an “unselfish and unexpected sacrifice,” according to Grendahl.
“So much of what we do in education revolves around the Seniors and the senior year. They are our final product that we proudly send out each year! This year, the Seniors of The Class of 2020, gave up the security of the best parts of their year for the well-being of others,” Grendahl said in an email.
Both teachers and students have found ways to accept and learn in the unexpected learning style, though with hopes of seeing one another again always in the back of their mind. Seventh-grade student Bradley Moats wanted to return to see his friends.
“Distance learning kind of sucks because we can’t see our friends and it’s just a lot harder because our teachers can’t teach us stuff in person,” Bradley said.
While the social interaction is different, 11th-grade student Madison Moats said distance learning is easier and two other high school students agreed on the flexibility of it.
“I think it’s kind of easier because, now when you’re in school you have to sit there for eight hours, now you can only do it in two but you’re still not getting the face-to-face learning or the teacher-student interaction,” Madison said.
Parents, too, now carry the added weight of needing to be a teacher. Holly Sivicky, a parent of three, said everyone she’s talked to is finding this tough. Amanda Leber said her daughter in kindergarten loves distance learning since she gets to be with her baby brother, eat Pop Tarts and rake the yard, though Leber said she isn’t “made to be a teacher.”
“It’s been really hard. Stressful,” Leber said.
Still, Leber, Sivicky and parent Heidi Nelson expected the extended school closure. Sivicky has been cautious as she is “really nervous” for her 2-year-old son who was born prematurely with smaller lungs. He has been in and out of the hospital since he was born due to other illnesses which have in the past been brought home from his kindergarten brother Declan Hingst. When the schools were open on March 16 and 17, Declan stayed home to avoid the possible risk of bringing the illness home. With distance learning, she tries to combine learning with fun.
Alongside many students, Nelson’s preschool, third grade and sixth grade students were a bit “bummed” about the activities they’ll miss but have enjoyed seeing friends on Zoom.
“We really felt prepared for it (the school closure). We already knew that that was what was probably going to happen so it wasn’t a shock for us at all. And my kids are … at ages where … they’re pretty resilient,” Nelson said. “They’ve done really well with it and the teachers have been great.”
Sivicky said the support from teachers and the videos and posts have been helpful. She also acknowledged how much time teachers usually spend with their students, often more than their own children, as Declan’s teacher Mandy Gallant had pointed out.
“I told Declan’s teacher, I have a newfound respect for you guys because my kids don’t like learning from me, they like learning from other people,” Sivicky said. “I’m a stay-at-home mom so I know that what we do at home and what they do at school are two different things. (Laughs) So it’s a lot different.”