Posted on

Area students, teachers adapt to online learning

Area students, teachers adapt to online learning Area students, teachers adapt to online learning

The sounds of laughter, lockers swinging shut and students shuffling between classes is gone. The hallways of the Abbotsford and Colby school districts are empty, their classrooms vacant. It’s been this way since March 18, when Gov. Tony Evers closed public and private schools in the hopes of halting the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the task of learning continues, and for the past three weeks, students from Colby and Abbotsford are combining textbooks with Chromebooks to keep up with their coursework.

There’s more than a few challenges to this, but the biggest remains finding a reliable Internet or Wi-Fi connection.

“The biggest hurdle has been lack of quality Internet in rural settings,” Abbotsford High School principal Ryan Bargender says. “That makes it hard for both students and staff to utilize videos or live chat features.”

Teachers have been broadcasting their lessons over Google Classrooms, and have done their best to answer questions during scheduled hours. Teachers are also using Screencastify to create videos to share with their students.

According to a survey conducted by Abbotsford, roughly 90 percent of teachers and students have some form of access to the Internet. For those families without Internet access, both Colby and Abbotsford school districts are hard at work providing reliable connections.

“We still have families without Internet capabilities, and we are working with them on a case by case basis,” Bargender says. “We are currently putting plans in place to quickly get out as many Chromebooks as possi­ble. . . The biggest thing we are asking of students and staff is to stay connected.”

Nonetheless, the transition has been swift and impressive given how little warning schools had regarding the sweep of COVID-19. Thankfully, the Abbotsford School District had a rough contingency plan for something like this.

“It certainly helps that we had been putting things together behind the scenes to use ‘virtual learning days’ in place of traditional snow days,” Bargender explained. “However, we did not expect to be using it during a global pandemic. Fortunately, a state administrative rule was modified a few years ago to recognize new and emerging methods of delivering instructional programming.”

Some classes have had an easier time going from in-person instruction to online, but some, like band or chemistry, have been hard to teach over a computer.

“I never thought I’d want to go back from school but right now I’d do anything to get face-to-face classes back,” Colby senior Erin Voss said. “Some of my classes are okay online, but other classes that are more hands-on — like anatomy and physiology, AP chemistry and choir — are difficult to learn over a screen.”

Voss says the adjustment has gone well, but she wishes students had more time to adjust instead of being thrown right into online instruction.

“The thing that would make it easier is if we had practiced doing stuff online first instead of being thrown into it,” she said.

Colby music director Nathan Larsen expressed his frustrations with trying to teach students to play an instrument while being miles away.

“Things are definitely different,” Larsen conceded. “The toughest part for me, and all teachers, is not seeing our students face to face everyday. It is hard to connect with them through a screen.”

Spotty Internet connections have also produced a delay in transmission, making it difficult for Larsen to know if the sounds he is hearing are the result of a student playing a bad note, or issues with the video feedback.

“The hardest part for me, when it comes to band, is the delay in sound coming from student computers,” Larsen says. “It would be great to get the band in a Google meeting and play together, but there is just too much lag in the sound.”

To make up for this, Larsen has created instructional videos that students can watch and play along with. He is also taking advantage of online resources and tutorials.

“A ton of companies have offered up full versions of their software for free to those schools affected by the shutdown, which is basically everyone at this point,” Larsen said. “Their generosity has opened up whole new avenues of learning that we didn’t have access to before, and that has been very helpful.”

But what of the students? How are they handling this recent, abrupt switch? Some are finding it easy, like Carter Grewe, a sophomore at Colby High.

“Online school has been good to me and I have no complaints,” Grewe said via Facebook. “I enjoy learning at my own pace. In the early stages I had trouble learning how to set aside time for school work at home, but I am getting the hang of it more and more as time goes on.”

For others, like Abby junior Catie Clement, she finds herself missing the structure and routine that going to school provided.

“As a student, it’s been a little tough to try and stick to a schedule everyday and find the motivation to do all the work,” Clement explained. “I definitely miss school a lot. It’s so hard not being able to interact with everyone, and texting just isn’t the same.”

Like Clement, Colby senior Gavino Lopez says the move to online instruction definitely puts more responsibility on a student’s shoulders to turn their work in.

“The most difficult part about the switch is that it’s harder to stay on top of things and make sure you have everything done for each individual class,” he said.

But there have been some advantages, says Clement, who says she no longer feels as rushed to try and get everything done at once.

“The online instruction has been nice because I feel like it’s less stressful trying to finish your work in one period,” Clement said. “But it is tough when you have questions to ask. It has taught me to think outside the box and help myself more to find and answer.”

Another problem is staying focused and avoiding distractions.

Colby High student Taya Timm said the best remedy for distraction is to find a quiet, relaxing place to concentrate.

“I would recommend making sure you have a comfortable working space,” Timm said. “Somewhere nice and quiet so if you want to listen to music you can.”

The greatest consensus among teachers, administrators and students is they just miss seeing each other.

“We really do have great teachers at Abbotsford,” Clement says. “I miss being able to talk to them and see how they are doing.”

“The biggest complaint from all staff is simply missing the kids and having face to face interactions with them,” Bargender says. “Our counselors, school psychologist, and school resource officer have been reaching out to kids and trying to meet their needs as well.”

There’s no doubt that schools across the state are in uncharted waters, but students and teachers stand united in their pursuit of learning.

“This certainly has been an opportunity for all districts,” Bargender said. “I am amazed at how quickly our staff has been able to set up Google Classrooms and other technology to keep students engaged.”