NORTHFIELD CENTER — When school starts again in the fall, both families and educators will have a lot of experience with remote learning — having spent much of the last half of last school year with school doors closed.
Teachers and school administrators found themselves facing a challenge after Gov. Mike DeWine ordered school buildings closed last March to control the spread of the novel coronavirus. Not only were educators forced to put their curriculum and teaching tools entirely online, but they also found ways for students to either access the new lesson plans or find alternatives for those who could not.
School staffs ended up using a combination of online resources such as Google Classroom for lessons and Zoom for virtual classroom meetings.
"Our staff members’ willingness to be flexible and innovative in every turn has been one of the most useful tools in trying to provide the best quality education to our students," said Todd Stuart, director of curriculum, instruction and professional development.
He also gave a lot of credit to parents.
"They are trying to balance work, the increased demand for supporting the education of their own children now ... daily routines, and unfortunately, the possible situation of someone becoming sick in their family.
"We often relate to the cliché, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ In our current situation, this cannot be more accurate."
Teachers are concentrating on the social-emotional needs as well as academics, Stuart said, explaining staff were communicating daily with parents on "what to expect academically/social-emotional support/how to obtain meals, etc."
Stuart said that teachers were also expected to touch base with every student/family "to engage in the lessons that are being provided remotely."
He said school staff made it a point to make direct contact with families who could not be contacted online.
Mike Russ, the director of technology with the district, said that the schools distributed at least 100 Chromebooks to families whose students did not have computers at home.
Brenda Basch, a third-grade teacher at Rushwood Elementary School, said the hardest part was not seeing her students in person.
"It was hard at first getting into a routine at home that I had to transform into my work place," Basch said. "While technology is amazing and I have learned so many new tools and skills during this time, it will never replace the time I missed out on with my students ... The reality is I have much more control when they are in the classroom.
"The number of distractions that occur while monitoring 24-plus students in their own homes is mind blowing," she added. "Teaching the students online etiquette and reminding them to ‘unmute their microphones’ is something I never thought I would hear myself saying as a teacher."
However, there have been some positives, Basch said.
"The best success stories are the ones where you are finally able to virtually meet with a student," she said. "Just seeing their faces during class huddle, sharing in their accomplishments, or getting a peek inside their home environments. I enjoy seeing the students share their pets, their favorite part of their room, or where they like to read."
There also have been memorable moments outside of the classroom, such as the school’s teacher parade and her delivering the books her students bought — leaving them outside for them to find, Basch said.
"My students made everyone who has had a birthday during this time special," she said. "We sing to them and share in their celebration! My students even made me feel special and even sang to me on my birthday. A student and their family chalked my driveway with positive messages and thank you notes.
"Parent emails have touched my heart and will be something I treasure always. I also had a student that printed off a picture of me and placed it in a frame on her desk where she completes her work so that I can be ‘with her’ like in our classroom."
Rachel Pearce, a ninth-grade teacher, also missed seeing her students in person.
"One big hurdle I had to overcome, and probably the biggest, was acknowledging that I may not see my students again for a while ... we were told by eighth-grade teachers that this current freshman class was special, and they were right," Pearce said.
Pearce said that one lesson she had to learn was about pacing.
"My big ‘Aha!’ came when I understood that less is sometimes more," Pearce said. "When March 16 and this new reality of digital learning hit, I came out of the gates running. My students quickly grew tired. I quickly grew tired. I had to learn to find that balance of putting out quality instead of quantity."
Another lesson? Keeping a sense of humor and going with the flow, Pearce said.
"One student had a blanket over his face during a video assignment, claiming he looked ‘dusty right now,’" she said. "I am not sure what exactly that means, but it gave me a good chuckle."
For Jaime Hoon, the challenge was particularly hard when dealing with her Northfield Elementary kindergartners without in-person feedback.
The Zoom classes, however, have provided some amusing moments, Hoon said.
"Sitting back and watching my whole class on screen from their homes in ‘Brady Bunch’ style is a hoot," she said. "I see closeups of eyes, mouths, and noses in the camera as well as empty chairs and wiggly bodies. Children have left the screen to go do cartwheels and dance a bit. I have gotten to see feet because the kids have turned themselves completely upside down in their chair, and I have also gotten to meet many, many little siblings and pets that I would not get to see in the classroom.
"The Zoom meetings warm my heart and always, always put a smile on my face. They also make me miss my students a little more each time."
Goksu Kretch, a fourth-grade teacher at Rushwood Elementary School, said the exclusive dependence on technology has been a challenge. Previously, it had only served to enhance lessons and it has taken her some time to adapt.
"During one of my meets, a student who always helped me with technology in the classroom told me ‘Mrs. Kretch, I don’t think you need me anymore,’" she said. "I think I might have earned a passing grade!"
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @AprilKHelms_RPC