WARSAW — Education presses on during the coronavirus pandemic. Due to available technology, students in Warsaw Community Schools are able to use their electronic devices to continue learning while at home through eLearning days.
For the rest of the school year, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are eLearning days, while Tuesdays and Thursdays are waiver days, though teachers are still expected to work remotely on waiver days. Angela Luecke, who teaches fourth grade at Jefferson Elementary School, said she uses those days for grading, planning the next day’s learning and researching new apps or websites she could use.
No school district using eLearning was prepared for this length of time. “However, school systems like Warsaw and Wawasee were fortunate to already be doing eLearning days during the school year,” Luecke noted. “We had four to five days already from snow days this year. So our students are familiar with the process.”
Teachers use a wide variety of websites allowing students to post their work such as Seesaw, Google Classroom and Canvas. “A lot of teachers use Google products for students to do work,” she said.
Though obviously not the same as in a classroom setting, teachers can still communicate with students “in the moment” with Zoom, Google Meet, Google Hangout and other apps. Luecke noted social media has been helpful during this time and several companies are offering teachers free access to use their products for now.
“Publishing companies are allowing us to read their books to our students without penalties,” she said. “There are a lot of virtual tours from zoos or Disneyworld that students can go to their website for a tour. It’s been a lot of how we can get creative in our lessons and keep them engaging while still learning.”
Not only is Luecke a teacher, she is also the mother of two daughters: Jocelyn, a fifth-grader, and Adalyn, a third-grader, who both attend Jefferson Elementary. Luecke admitted this has posed challenges for her.
“Balancing being a parent of two school-aged children and a teacher, I won’t lie, can be stressful at times,” she commented. “Mostly when the technology does not want to cooperate.”
She deals with the stress by focusing on remaining calm and getting up early in the morning to make sure her lessons are ready. “I have recorded my morning video for my students, and I am prepared that way,” she said. “For my sanity with my own kids, we set up our ‘fort’ every night before they go to bed. It has all of their essentials for the next day of eLearning.”
There are also schedules posted in the living room for both eLearning days and the other days. “This way the girls keep on track of getting their work done but it also makes sure that they take breaks as necessary,” Luecke said.
Screen time is normally limited in the Luecke home, “so this really takes some guidance,” she noted.
Extended lengths of time kids are home due to social distancing and recommendations to stay home as much as possible have clearly been major challenges for families. Angela’s husband, Blake, is working outside of the house full time. So Angela spends a lot of time alone with her girls and tries to keep them as busy as possible, such as helping with a do-it-yourself back patio project. The girls go outside as often as possible, especially during “recess and lunch times.”
“We require a quiet time each day where they go to separate rooms and do a choice activity that does not have a device,” Luecke said. “They play board games and quiz each other on states and capitals and math facts. Our nighttime routine has been to sit on the couch together and talk about the day.”
The reality is now the school year will not resume within the school building. “I am saddened to the fact my girls will not get to finish this school year at Jefferson with their friends,” and she also realizes she will not finish the school year in the classroom with her 25 fourth-graders. Luecke believes the social aspect of school has been taken for granted and “now that we don’t have it, it’s what is missing the most.”
Instead, the digital world has become the new norm. “These are some hard life lessons for these kids,” she commented.
Luecke said it is important to check in on kids and make sure they are getting breaks from technology and social media. And kids mimic the actions of adults, so adults need to be careful how they are handling the current times.