Crothersville teachers make classroom adjustments for new school year



Olivia Cain plans to have 26 fifth-graders in her classroom today when the first bell rings on the 2020-21 school year at Crothersville Elementary School.

Five other students will be doing their learning from home.

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There will be a similar scenario at all Jackson County schools this school year as students and staff begin during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schools are offering students the option to do traditional instruction or virtual learning.

If they choose the virtual option, however, it’s not going to be like it was in the spring when all students did eLearning after the virus forced schools to close. The Indiana Department of Education has changed it up to ensure all students are at the same level of learning, whether they are in the classroom or at home.

“It’s going to be a little more strenuous,” Cain said. “There’s going to be a lot more effort that they have to put in because for the elementary, they are required five hours (of instruction each day), so my kids for fourth and fifth grade are going to have to be doing what they are supposed to be doing online.”

In addition to some of her fifth-graders doing online learning, Cain will oversee three fourth-graders who chose that option.

She will focus on her in-class work from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the eLearning kids from 3 to 5 p.m. Cain and the other teachers overseeing the virtual learners for their grade level are receiving compensation for their extra work.

“We’re supposed to be getting a new program to use that will make it a little bit easier for us, but it’s going to be more intensive like they would be in an actual classroom,” she said.

Online learning is just one of the big differences this school year.

In the classroom, students’ desks have to be 3 to 6 feet apart so they don’t have close contact and can practice social distancing.

“We’re going to work on training on Google Classroom and getting familiar with how to find everything they need to find,” Cain said. “For the most part, the kids still have their books and stuff, but I’m going to try to take them online as much as possible with the fifth-graders because they are more than capable of using a computer and doing the right thing.”

No matter which way her students will be learning, Cain is confident in them succeeding.

“This class that’s coming up is a great group, and I’ve heard great things about all of them,” she said. “I’m hoping that they will be understanding just as much as I am to them because I know where we’re all coming from, and being gone from school for five months is a long time.”

Looking back on her start in education, Cain said she never thought she would have to go through something like this.

“It has been stressful and I’ve been anxious because I have grandparents that are elderly that have a lot of health problems, so just me coming back in a setting with this many children is a lot to handle,” she said.

“But I’ve spent a lot of time this summer self-reflecting on myself and just wrapping my head around the situation,” she said. “This is the way it’s going to be, and this is the way these kids are going to have to do this. We’re just going to have to buck up and do it because they can’t just find new teachers because we’re scared because everybody is scared.”

After Friday’s first teacher day when Cain and her co-workers were able to ask administrators questions, she said she felt a lot better going into the first day with students.

“We got to know more information because there has been a lot of ‘Well, what are we doing? What is the answer to this?’ and most of the answers are ‘I don’t know,’ but an answer of ‘I don’t know’ is perfectly fine with me because I don’t know, either. I don’t expect them to know, either,” she said. “It is a day-by-day situation, but my positivity toward what’s going on, I think, is going to help these kids get through that.”

Cassondra Kelly is in the same boat as Cain since she is the eLearning instructor for kindergarten. Kelly will have 16 kids in her classroom and at least three doing eLearning, including one from Holly Sweany’s kindergarten class.

Last school year, Kelly put three tables together to make one group table to seat six kids. There were six of those stations in her room.

This school year, those tables are separated into rows.

“Obviously, teaching is my passion, so I do miss them. I’m ready to come back,” Kelly said. “I am nervous about trying to keep everything clean and keep them safe because parents rely on me to do that, so I’m obviously trying to make sure everything is safe for them and clean and that we’re following all of the proper guidelines by the state and the CDC.”

Even the kids in the classroom will learn how to negotiate the virtual world so they are prepared to do virtual learning if the school has to have everyone go that route, Kelly said.

She’s just glad starting the school year in person is even an option.

“Even though the kids see the structure in school a little bit differently, I still want to make it as fun and engaging as possible,” she said. “I still want them to enjoy coming to school and somehow make it a safe place they want to be and they want to come every day even with all of the new guidelines.”

Ellen Prince is in a unique situation because her preschool classroom is the only one not offering the virtual option.

Her class size, however, was reduced from 24 to 15 students for safety measures, and the desks are spread out across the room.

“I feel like this year is going to kind of be like parenting, that you don’t really know until you jump in with both feet,” she said. “They tell you when you’re a new mom that you’re going to be tired, but you can’t know the exhaustion until you do it. I feel like we’re not going to know the ‘Oh my’ until we do the ‘Oh my.’”

There may be challenges along the way, but everyone will be stronger for it, Prince said.

“I’m definitely a ‘like my ducks in a row’ kind of person, so I feel like this year is probably going to make me stretch myself, and that should be a really good thing for the outcome at the end of the year,” she said.

Prince is most excited about getting back to some sense of normalcy.

“Everyone’s lives have been different, and I feel like going back to school creates that normalcy that we’ve all needed,” Prince said. “A lot of people went back to work or a lot of people have changed this or that, but for us, our classrooms are our homes, so this is our normal. To go back is like getting to go home after a really long vacation. It’s time to come home.”

Like Cain, Prince said she felt better after getting answers during Friday’s staff meeting. It has brought her some peace as the new school year starts.

She hopes a lemon theme in her classroom brings peace to her students, too.

“Somebody asked me if it was because when life gives you lemons (you make lemonade), and I’m like, ‘Well, no, but it kind of makes sense right now,’” she said. “I just think a bowl full of lemons is cheerful. I want it to be cheerful. You want it to be a little bit home. It’s their home away from home, too.”

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