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May 26th, 2020

usd 480 covid 19 teachingA USD 480 teacher works with a group of students on a past lesson. With Gov. Kelly’s order earlier this month to close all K-12 school buildings for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, teachers throughout the district are working to make sure their students have access to educational materials to finish out the school year. L&T file photo/Elly GrimmELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly announced earlier in March the closure of all K-12 school buildings for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year. Since that announcement, school districts across the state have been working to make sure curriculum is put online and students still have access to educational materials, including Liberal’s USD 480. 

School districts are already in compliance with the executive order issued by the governor this morning so there will be no changes to the district’s continuous learning plans and meal deliveries. After Gov. Kelly’s announcement, the initial reaction with many USD 480 teachers was shock and surprise. 

“When the governor's announcement came that all K-12 schools were to be closed my initial  thought was that of surprise,” Eisenhower Middle School teacher Matt Dewinde said. “My family is from New York, so I was hearing all the things that were happening on the East Coast and back where I was from. I had kept up with the virus here in Kansas, but it was mostly affecting the east side of the state. So I was kind of shocked by the news at first and then after a little time realized it was the best decision that could be made given what has been happening.”

“To be completely honest I was shocked initially,” Eisenhower Middle School teacher Cody Hickox added. “I thought about all the kids I wasn’t going to get to see at 8th grade promotion, all the goodbyes I wasn’t going to get to have and all of the other memories I was going to miss out on.”

“When the announcement came, I let myself be sad for about an hour because of everything I knew students would be missing for the remainder of the year,” Liberal High School teacher Lisa Owens said. “Then I sent out a reassuring email to tell students they were not alone and their teachers were working hard to provide them with some semblance of normalcy.”

After a brief time, the work began in order to prepare the USD 480 students for their new normal for the remainder of the school year. 

“I knew students would need online access to any assignment I was going to prepare and some sort of checklist to keep them all organized,” Owens said. “The majority of what I assign my students is linked online anyway because of the large numbers of students in my classes involved in extracurricular activities. However, I knew they would need some sort of face-to-face check-in because of the high levels of anxiety this virus is causing many of them. I regularly send remind messages checking in with them. I have sent several personal email messages so they know their teachers are still thinking and worrying about them. I have also had Zoom meetings so they can see a friendly face to ease their fears.”

“The first thing I thought of was how much I hate taking videos of myself. I was trying to come up with creative ways in my head to present the information I wanted to get across I was researching into Skype and Zoom and other means of communication that would allow me to still have contact with the students to answer questions they have and still be a champion for them in these unprecedented times,” Hickox added. 

“Immediately  after the news I thought about how I had already been shifting to being digital with my assignments using Google Classroom that we thanks to the students having their own Chromebooks provided by the school,” Dewinde said. “I contacted my partner teacher, Daniel Minde, and we have for the past week been discussing new online resources and tools that students can use to continue learning. Luckily our administrators at Eisenhower Middle School have put together an amazing plan to help students complete their school year. Together we are ensuring that each day students receive at least 30 minutes of instruction from their four core teachers and 20 minutes of instruction from their elective teachers. We are also using Google Classroom to place our assignments for them to complete along with packet deliveries if students cannot access the Internet.”

And though the digital format is not entirely how teachers planned to finish out the school year, the teachers said there are some benefits to the format. 

“The biggest benefit is we stop the spread of the disease,” Hickox said. “The worst thing I think that could happen is we don’t take it seriously and all of the sudden something happens to someone I care an awful lot about that would be heart wrenching. It also allows the students to continue with their education.”

“I like the screencast lessons I have been posting. It gives me a chance to pause during my lesson and make sure I have covered all essential information,” Owens said. “It prevents outside distractions. It also allows for students to get a whole lesson in one chunk instead of broken up due to overlaps or lack of time.”

“Some of the benefits to this type of instruction is that it definitely helps prepare them to navigate this world, one of Eisenhower's values,” Dewinde said. “Currently, I am in a master's program and we are all online-based learning and that is something I've had to adjust to as well. This type of instruction allows for the learner to go at their own pace rather than being constrained to a bell ringing schedule.”

Even with those benefits, however, the teachers agreed they will miss the daily personal interaction. 

“The major drawback to though to this is that teachers have always enjoyed seeing our students and now we can't,” Dewinde said. 

“I miss the interaction with my students,” Owens added. “I team teach U.S. history with Chris Brooks and our partnership allowed for multiple perspectives and I think students miss that with e-learning.”

“The drawback is the social emotional growth as well as the personal connections that we make with our students,” Hickox said. “Selfishly I’m going to miss seeing my students every day.”

The teachers also added the students now have 100 percent of the responsibility to make sure they  get their work done. They added parents must also be on board in making sure their students remain on track. 

“For the rest of the year is to take one day at a time, take one assignment at a time and if you have questions please feel free to reach out to their teachers and ask,” Dewinde said. “Parents can check in on their student’s Google Classroom and help create a planner and schedule for their students to do. Parents can also check in on PowerSchool to see if their child has turned in their assignments.”

“Definitely use your time wisely. All of us teachers have worked really hard to provide you all with something that we feel is going to continue your educational growth. I would also say however that it’s important to spend some time just being a part of the family,” Hickox added. “I would say my ideal schedule for a day is wake up, have a meal with your family, do a couple hours of work then go try something new maybe try a new hobby if you don’t have brothers and sisters to play with, or go out and play with your brothers and sisters and find some common ground with people in your family whether it’s playing board games with mom and dad are doing something new like starting a puzzle that you’ve always wanted to do just doing something to stay busy and hopefully growing in the process. And for the parents, it’s going to be difficult. Sometimes you’re not going to know how to help your student and you might have to go to work and you might not be there to help, but my biggest advice would be just be there for them. As long as you’re there for them and as long as they have that comfort in that security. There are teachers all over this town and all over the world right now who are bending over backwards for your students and I know I’m for sure one of them I’m going to set up office hours so the kids can talk contact me and I know a lot of the teachers that I work with are going to do the same thing so there’s going to be resources out there to help you and it’s so long as they know that nothing will stop them. Also regarding getting their work done just ask them. Set up a goal for your student every day and tell them you need to do this and this today and when you come home from work, check to make sure they’ve actually done it. Make him show you physically that they’ve done it and that will keep them honest and on track in the walls will keep you in the loop with what’s going on at your in your student school.”

“You can only do one thing at a time. Don't allow the large amount of content that is being posted to freak you out. Spend time everyday getting work done and communicate with your teachers if you are confused. Make sure to ask for help when you need it,” Owens said. “Parents should ask to see their students’ Google Classroom accounts. They could make a checklist for the day that they expect to be done. This allows those parents that are still out helping our community run as smoothly as possible ensure their students are getting their work done. A checklist would also provide those parents that are at home with students some structure so their child knows they accomplished something every day.”

While there will be difficulties along the way, teachers said they are more than prepared to be there for their students for the rest of the year. 

“The onus is going to be on the students. Once they finish all assigned coursework they are technically done with that class,” Owens said. “Students need to regularly check their email and Google Classroom to guarantee they have everything they need to successfully earn their credits this semester.”

“I expect things to be a lot different and I actually expect us to grow us his teachers and the students as learners because this is going to be something completely different this is something most kids don’t get to experience until like a college level age unless they take really advanced classes in high school, so this is going to be a great experience for them,” Hickox said. “I just hope they understand that and they put the effort into it and I know if they do that they’re going to get a lot out of it. I am I also expect that the students are going to struggle a little bit I expected there’s going to be a learning curve for me and other teachers trying to figure out how to best implement the learning that most of us have never really done before so I know there’s going to be a learning curve I know there’s going to be ups and downs I know that there’s going to be difficulties but I also know there’s going to be a sincere amount of greatness that comes out of this and I know that our students are going to be really, really prepared for anything that the world will throw at them now because they would’ve lived through something that is unexplainable. And I’m most excited to see how they persevere through this and what kind of resilience they show.”

“My expectation is to just do our best with everything that is going on,” Dewinde said. “We all just have to be adaptable and ready for this change that's happening. We will use the resources that we have available to us, and make it work because that's what we have to do.”

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