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Learning from a distance

By Staff | Apr 5, 2020

Aubrey Woodwick uses her Chromebook to see her teacher and classmates and learn at home.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Distance Learning began for Blue Earth Area students on Monday, March 30.

Distance Learning involves planned online or teacher-prepared lessons students can complete when away from the physical school building so education can continue even when students and teachers are not at the same location.

BEA lists three goals of Distance Learning on the school website:

To continue the learning for students during the disruption of a long-term closure.

To continue building relationships and fostering connections with all our students through alternate means when face to face is not an option.

To ensure all BEA students have equitable access to the learning materials.

“The first thing superintendent (Mandy) Fletcher stressed for the first day of Distance Learning was to check in and connect with the kids,” technology and media director Jennifer Berkner says. “It is important we make sure their needs are being met. The pandemic can affect families in many different ways.”

Berkner notes BEA is fortunate because the district, through their flex learning program, already had many things in place to make Distance Learning work.

“Flex learning generally involves school being closed for a couple of days due to a weather event,” Berkner comments. “Distance Learning is for when the building is closed for a much longer length of time, as is the case because of the pandemic.”

While many people may picture kids looking at a computer screen watching a teacher instruct students online, Berkner explains the process does not work like that.

“Since this is something we have been working on for years, a lot of content is already online for the middle school and high school kids,” Berkner shares. “Students can go online and get their assignments, complete them and turn them in. The teachers can then check the students’ progress.”

But the kids do get some face-to-face time with the teachers.

“The teachers use either Zoom or Google meeting to set aside time during the week to hold virtual office hours,” Berkner says. “They can also offer virtual class meetings so students may interact with the teacher and each other.”

Working with the K-2 students present some other challenges.

“We had some older Chromebooks we were able to offer to families who had younger children and maybe did not have another device for their child to use,” Berkner notes. “And the parents have really stepped up and are helping their young ones learn.”

About 140-150 Chromebooks have been issued to the younger students so far.

“We do not want the kids to be in front of a screen all day,” Berkner remarks. “But it is very important for these young kids to see and hear their teacher and have an opportunity to connect to them.”

The students are not the only ones operating from home.

“We have some teachers who are in a higher-risk health category so they work out of their home,” Berkner commented. “We also have teachers with young children so it is nice for them to have the ability to teach from home if they need to.”

Another concern for the district is the students’ ability to get on the Internet.

“We have inequitable access to the Internet in the district,” Berkner states. “Not everyone has a connection or a good connection. Families may need to stagger their Internet use to be able to make things work.”

In addition to BEA issuing some individual hotspots for people lacking access to the Internet, Berkner says they have two mobile hotspots on order.

“The mobile hotspots will be placed in a bus” Berkner explains. “The bus will pull into a community and if the weather is good, kids could come and sit on lawn chairs and access the mobile hot spot while maintaining distance between each other. Another option is for students to park in a BEA parking lot and utilize the School District’s Wi-Fi.”

The BEA website explains teachers will regularly monitor student participation, activity and assignment submission to track attendance. Students are expected to log in to their teacher’s classroom site to access lessons and activities on a daily basis.

There is also a change in the meal delivery program, according to the district website. Meals will now be available 9-10 a.m. Mondays and Thursdays in the cities of Blue Earth, Frost, Winnebago, Delavan and Elmore.

Monday through Wednesday’s meals will be delivered on Monday and Thursday’s and Friday’s meals will be delivered on Thursday.

“We are also using the Monday and Thursday meal delivery buses to distribute materials to the students who need them,” Berkner comments. “Anyone needing materials delivered to their homes should contact their classroom teacher or one of the School District’s offices.”

Through the first two days of distance learning Berkner states things have gone pretty well.

“One of the companies we utilize for the younger kids had a small problem which they corrected during the afternoon of the first day,” Berkner remarked. “I do want to give credit to the Minnesota Department of Education for their guidance in helping us plan for this situation.”