On April 24, Seymour Community School Corp. was set to have its first official eLearning day.
The corporation planned to fully implement remote learning in the 2020-21 school year as a way to avoid having to make up days for inclement weather.
But the novel coronavirus, which has caused the COVID-19 pandemic health crisis, changed those plans quickly and sped up the district’s schedule for eLearning by a month.
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Beginning Monday, schools were closed to prevent the spread of the virus, and students are now having to complete their schoolwork virtually from home.
In order for many families to have eLearning capability, however, students first needed a device to use.
Although SCSC had already rolled out its 1:1 initiative to students in fifth through 12th grades, issuing each of them a Chromebook to take home, students in kindergarten through fourth grade have only been allowed to use the devices at school.
On Monday and Tuesday, school principals and other staff members, including counselors, bus drivers and technology specialists, at all five elementary schools prepared and handed out 1,655 Chromebooks to families through a curbside distribution process.
Everyone helping wore gloves, and many also donned face masks as a precaution.
Superintendent Brandon Harpe said the number of Chromebooks distributed represents 81% of the kindergarten through fourth grade students.
“At this point, we are trying to track down who we are missing while also being mindful of the governor’s stay-at-home order,” Harpe said.
Brian Rodman, director of technology, said staff and students are doing a good job adapting to the challenges.
Teachers and instructional aides have had little time to prepare for eLearning, and students and families are navigating uncharted territory.
“I hear about all kinds of success stories that our teachers and students are having,” he said. “We are still trying to figure out ways to provide the proper support for our parents, students and staff by giving them all of the resources they need.”
Some parents have kept their children to a regular routine.
Myka Wetzel, who has two young children, said their education is continuing and is just as important as it was before schools closed.
“I wouldn’t say we are loving it, but we are making the most of it,” she said of eLearning. “We love still having the routine of getting up and going to school before we do anything else in our day.”
Wetzel said the teachers should be commended for their work.
“Remi’s teacher has done an amazing job at keeping it as simply explained as possible while throwing in some extra fun notes, too,” she said.
Considering the circumstances, Harpe said the week hasn’t been that bad.
“I expected some complaints with the full implementation of eLearning, and we have had a few, but not many,” he said. “The surprising thing has been the number of positive communications we have received, which is obviously nice.”
Jess Moss said her daughters are completing their eLearning tasks and iReady goals via their Chromebooks.
“We’ve had some log-in issues with different apps the girls use, but thankfully, our schoolteachers are readily available for all of our questions,” Moss said.
Should students and/or parents need help or have questions, teachers and instructional staff are available virtually from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each weekday through email or their websites.
To keep her daughters active and interested in the online lessons, Moss said she also is incorporating other activities.
“For spelling and handwriting, we are writing letters to our friends and family that live outside of the area. We are including arts and crafts with these letters, like drawings and collages,” Moss said. “For PE, we are riding bikes and having dance-a-thons. Music is always a staple in our home, and we are working on writing a few praise and worship tunes for our church families.”
Vera Reichenbacker said she is grateful for the teachers and staff at Cortland Elementary School, where her son attends.
“He misses everyone so much,” she said. “The eLearning is going good, though. His teacher has been a huge help in keeping things simple and organized.”
Jami Kiel, who teaches at Emerson Elementary School, said her daughter also misses her teachers and friends.
“But she loves that she can wear her jammies while working and eat snacks,” Kiel said.
Another issue Rodman is facing is how to repair Chromebooks that are not working or have been broken.
“Since we are working from home, this makes this task even more difficult,” he said. “We are setting up our eLearning site to handle questions about what is wrong with the devices. We have set it up so that if they cannot get connected, they are asked to contact their school building so they can forward those types of problems to us.”
If a child is having issues logging in and using certain software, then they are to contact their teachers either through their classroom website or email, he added.
“We are also working out ways for the parent, guardian or student to drop off a broken device and issuing a new one to them,” he said. “We are just asking for patience as this is new to our department, as well.”