The COVID-19 crisis unfolds hourly. Our lives and future are significantly disrupted, especially for students, parents and staff. Students—nearly one million K-12 in Minnesota —are now engaged in distance learning, which will likely continue through the school year. Postsecondary schools—which already offer many online courses—are transforming further, too.
Distance learning is a way of learning remotely without being in regular face-to-face contact with a teacher in the classroom. The practice is rapidly expanding in higher education. Many students at Century College (nearly 25%) had previously been enrolled in online classes. Responding resiliently to the pandemic:
*Century and faculty team have converted over 1,000 face-to-face courses to a fully online or hybrid format.
*Other support services offered to students are also being provided virtually by staff—all to ensure students finish the spring semester.
During the past two weeks, area k-12 administrators, teachers and staff have:
*Worked long hours preparing student learning plans which address required academic standards.
*Reached out to students and parents, offering words of encouragement, and many students have had learning activities.
* Taken steps so students have access to a computer and working internet connection at home. In many cases, this meant delivering computers to students and their families.
Educators and staff are doing their best to address these and a range of issues from grading to graduation (and like all of us, they are also faced with challenges in their personal lives). Addressing needs in areas such as special education, English language learners and homeless students provide added challenges.
Free meals for students have been made available at various sites. Check the district websites for exact locations and times. Free childcare is also available if you are a healthcare or emergency worker. School buildings are getting a deep cleaning. All hands-on deck!
I’m very encouraged and thankful for area school efforts. Inspiring examples:
* The White Bear Lake School District has opened a “Free Bear Care Health & Wellness Clinic” in partnership with the St. Catherine University Nursing Department. It’s open to all district students, birth to age 21. Services include health assessment/physical exams, strep throat tests and treatment, ear infection checks and treat, and more. Open 2 to 6 p.m. Wednesday and Friday, call (651)653-2923 during open hours for more information.
*Mahtomedi school leaders have made it possible for students who currently receive mental health support, and those who would like to in the future, to receive tele-health and phone appointments with mental health professionals.
*North-St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale schools staff worked round the clock to deliver Chrome books to every middle and high school student in the district. Staffers are providing childcare for 54 children a day, and delivering 2,800 free meals a day at 22 different locations.
*Hill-Murray School President Jim Hansen said his Maplewood school provides electronic devices to all students, and distance learning is up and running. In a letter to his school community, Hansen has urged everyone to “send at least one friend a text or Snap to let them know they are thinking of them.” He urged students to “read, go for a run, and pray.”
Here are some tips about how parents (or grandparents, caregivers) can help kids learn at home:
- Work on one or two subjects each day. Don’t try to replicate the structure of a six-hour school day.
- Learn alongside your kids. Use some of the many online resources. Don’t worry if you feel rusty in algebra or don’t speak a second language.
- Find a rhythm that works for you and the kids. At the end of the day, talk about the highs and lows and adjust as needed.
- Plan in daily brain and activity breaks, as well as things to look forward to each day.
- Relationships come first. Then assignments. If kids are anxious, becoming a drill sergeant won’t work.
- Help your kids find their passions. The idea is to spark a love of learning. Does your child love animals? Look up documentaries on lions or penguins and ask them to do a presentation for the family. Have younger kids draw pictures and tell a story, while older kids can design a PowerPoint presentation.
Learning updates are available from the Department of Education: https://education.mn.gov/MDE/dse/health/covid19/.
COVID-19 information is available (among other sites) at the Minnesota Department of Health: https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/index.html.
At the Legislature, we are actively working to help provide resources needed for area schools to get the job done. The federal government is, too, plus local government, businesses and nonprofits, who are hurting, but resolved and determined. Discussions and emails are ongoing. I pledge to do whatever I can as we work to develop needed bipartisan solutions. We will.
Children now need extra hugs and assurance that they are secure and loved. Students, parents and staff increasingly miss the interpersonal relationships and activities at school. Friendships, sharing, socializing, extracurricular activities, prom, memories, much more. We appreciate and support you!
Together, we will get through this. We will learn and be better prepared. Students are our future.