Schools set up day cares, prepare meals, ready for distance learning to start
In a matter of days, area school staff transformed from classroom educators to meal caterers, child care providers and distance learning professionals.
Last week state officials mandated all Minnesota schools close to stop the potential spread of the coronavirus.
Schools in Hills, Beaver Creek and Luverne conducted classes on Monday, March 16, and sent students home through March 27.
By Wednesday, March 18, both Luverne and H-BC school districts were distributing daily meals to students and offering local to child care emergency and health care workers and their school-aged children under age 12.
“I encouraged staff to be the calm in the storm,” said H-BC Superintendent Todd Holthaus.
On March 18, H-BC staff fulfilled eight requests for child care and served 30 meals. H-BC families can pick up the brown bag meals at the elementary or high school entrances.
Luverne delivered 175 brown bag meals to five different locations on March 18 and provided for 30 children.
Child care in H-BC Elementary is from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. In Luverne child care is offered from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays.
While paraprofessionals and support staff complete the required meals and child care through March 27, teachers are busy devising lessons for potentially six weeks of distant learning.
Schools are preparing to educate students remotely starting March 30, per instructions from the governor’s resolution passed March 15.
On March 16 students in both school districts emptied lockers, and janitorial staff cleaned all surfaces in classrooms, hallways and locker rooms.
“Our staff has been tremendous,” Luverne Superintendent Craig Oftedahl told board members via video conferencing in a March 19 special meeting.
“This is a very challenging time for school districts. Our teaching staff is working extremely hard to change everything they have ever known about education and teaching and in nine days transform it into something different.”
Elementary principal Stacy Gillette said teachers took quick inventory of what students had at home and what they needed for distance learning.
Since March 17, teachers have researched what is available to them to teach remotely.
“Through this planning process, it has become apparent that technology will play a big part in our plan,” she said.
On March 19 high school art teacher Chris Nowatzki was reviewing education standards for the visual arts and examining the lessons left for this school year.
He was working with ag teacher Dennis Moritz and graphic arts teacher Bill Thompson on ways to take their predominantly hands-on learning projects for delivery now at home.
“The biggest challenge for art is supplies,” Nowatzki said.
However, he said many galleries have setup virtual tours of their art displays, and he is working on a project to link students with local ceramic artists.
Thompson is adding in YouTube and other videos to his classes that he hadn’t had time to use before the pandemic.
“We are looking at things … that we didn’t have time for because the kids wanted to use their hands,” he said.
Distant learning doesn’t exclusively involve technology.
Teachers can also use paper if they can get materials to students.
On Friday H-BC will distribute packets containing various student lessons.
Families are asked to pick the packets up at schools closest to their homes.
H-BC students, whose addresses are Hills or Steen, are to pick up packets at the high school in Hills. Students with addresses of Beaver Creek, Garretson, Luverne or Valley Springs can pick up packets at the elementary school in Beaver Creek.
Pickup hours are from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday at both sites.
Luverne teachers are preparing similar packets with a delivery schedule yet to be determined.
Both districts are working with local internet providers to connect all families with school-aged children to the internet.
Distant learning plans are expected to begin Monday.
“There are a lot of unknowns out there,” Holthaus told board members Monday. “Our staff couldn’t be handling it any better.”