The connection between teacher and student is one of the things that makes education work, according to Rob Lech, superintendent of Jamestown Public Schools.
"The foundation of education is the relationships that are built between teachers and students," he said. "Our teachers are really trying to keep that connection."
Two Jamestown elementary schools held events Wednesday to maintain that relationship even if the students are at home and the teachers are communicating with them through virtual learning methods.
Teachers, staff and even some of the parents at Lincoln Elementary School held a "parade" for their students with a caravan of about a dozen vehicles, led by a pickup and the Lincoln Lion mascot and they drove past the homes of about 60 students honking horns and waving at the kids.
"We wanted to keep their spirits up," said one of the participants.
At Roosevelt Elementary School, teachers gathered on the sidewalk outside the school carrying posters and waving at students who were driven past by their parents.
With classes called off due to precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, other methods of education are being utilized including virtual or online education.
The process of virtual learning will vary depending on a number of factors, Lech said.
"The experience will differ at every level," he said. "Things like, what can kids do on their own and what are screen time limits will vary. We're still trying to figure some of that out."
The virtual learning experience will have an internet component.
Keith Larson, CEO of Dakota Central Telecommunications, said his company was working with parents and the school to get internet access into some homes that did not previously have access.
Larson said they were able to provide internet connections to 42 homes in their service area with service provided free through June 1 or the end of the school year. There are about 23 additional homes without internet access in the Jamestown Public School District that are outside the Daktel service territory.
Lech said teachers are using a variety of software programs in their virtual learning efforts. The Jamestown Public School District is in the process of doing research to determine a single program to use in the future and this experience will help make that decision, he said.
In the meantime, Lech said the concentration is on getting the teachers, students and the parents comfortable with the processes that are being used to deliver class content.
"We don't want the (software) platform to be a barrier to learning," he said.
Luke Anderson, principal at Gussner Elementary School, said the process is transitioning to the virtual or online process of education now. Last week when students were allowed into the schools to pick up items they were given "paper and pencil stuff" like worksheets and lessons with the intent of helping the students maintain the level of learning they had when the schools were shut down.
"Now it is not just paper and pencil," Anderson said. "The majority of the teachers have had a virtual interaction with their students."
Anderson said the parents are not expected to be the teacher.
"The instructions are provided by the school," he said. "The parents may facilitate the process with the younger students."
Facilitation would include making sure devices are charged and operational. Older students will likely handle those tasks themselves, Anderson said. In most cases, the students will use their own computers or devices while students without the proper devices were allowed to borrow them from the school district.
"As far as helping," he said, "it is a matter of patience, this is new to all of us."
The next challenges are to develop processes for giving students feedback on how they are doing in class and receiving feedback from the students on how well the virtual education process is working.
Anderson said school officials are meeting virtually with parents to explain the process and get feedback as the plan goes forward.
"We are working towards an efficient system that ensures quality education," he said.
Lech said the school district has submitted its virtual learning plan to the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction for review. Plans submitted by school districts around the state will be judged based on their compliance with standards published by the Department of Public Instruction.
"We're pretty pleased with the guidance from the state," he said.
The Department of Public Instruction will provide feedback on the plan by April 1.
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