New school: JHS transitions to online learning

JSSP School News

In Jamestown High School Principal Adam Gehlhar's words the transition to online learning has been "inspiring."

"It's definitely been a learning experience for all of us," Gehlhar said. "We're going to keep getting better but I think from where we were four weeks ago to where we are now this is an experience that is making us better as a team and better as an organization to respond to these kinds of things. We're going to keep learning throughout the process and get better tomorrow than we were today."

It's all because of a global health pandemic.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum mandated the closure of all schools until at least April 1. Jamestown High School was proactive in submitting a distance learning plan to the state for approval. JHS implemented the online, distance learning program beginning on March 23.

"It's providing some really neat learning opportunities for project-based learning and doing things independently on their own," said Caroline Thompson a JHS instructional coach. "It's going to help them be very independent thinkers and learners and take initiative on their own - for their studies in their knowledge. It is probably giving them a lot of development in the area of managing their time."


The staff created a daily block schedule to assist students with work. The blocks are scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 3 p.m. During this time teachers can hold classroom meetings or one on one communication with a student. Classwork is released during the block meetings and students are typically given at least a few days to complete assignments.

"We've always tried to integrate technology in class whenever possible but we're really stretching ourselves at this point," said Cody Mickelson, a Jamestown High School German teacher. "There's a lot of unknowns right now but so far - I am cautiously optimistic."

Teachers are available to be communicated with during this time and also privately during office hours by phone, email, text, a social media platform or a classroom communication extension. To optimize program success Thompson said students should manage time wisely.

"(Students) really can engage and use every available avenue," Thompson said. "They should attend their meetings with us, they can talk with us virtually any time, they should look at their class calendars and schedules, their assignments and their meetings. It's just a time for them to self manage and grow a lot in that area to achieve their maximum impact from this experience."

While the first two weeks have passed with only minor issues there are still challenges facing the teachers day to day.

"You are putting a week's worth of stuff at there at a time versus day by day depending how to plan," said Cody Mickelson, a Jamestown High School German teacher. "It kind of reminds me of when a student is going to be out of town for a vacation and trying to get all of their work ready. Now, everybody is - I won't say on vacation - but at home."

Since teachers are unavailable to engage in face-to-face settings Mickelson said he must often rely on students to put in the time to find the answer to a question or at least reach out to have the question answered. Mickelson also can't rely on his students to explain concepts to him or their classmates in a different way.

"Working from home always seems like the greatest thing in the world when you see it," Mickelson said. "I think that from the standpoint of, it's completely new to me and the students it's harder. I can't rely on someone else to explain it differently or I can't really rely on asking those three, four or five follow-up questions when a specific problem arises."


Mickelson and his colleagues are restricted from seeing their students in the settings they are used to. With teachers unavailable in person-to-person settings Mickelson and Thompson spoke of the importance of parents or other authority figures when it comes to the student's work in the classroom.

"I definitely think parents asking what is going on in school is still a really important question," Mickelson said. "Hopefully kids and parents can visit with one another and show one another what they are working on during this time and lean on one another for that support."

Thompson added monitoring schedules and time commitments of students could aid in bettering the online format - making it almost as effective as the in-class meetings between students and teachers. Gehlhar asked parents to be conscious of a school-home balance to optimize performance while at home.

"Just work with your kids to manage the time," Gehlhar said. "Keep up with the communications from the school as best as you can, advocate that your kids really start to own that learning. Keep your students balanced - time outside, time for exercise, balancing screen time because we are asking more screen time of them.

"Also know we are here to socially and emotionally support kids. We are doing the meal delivery. Their counselors are here to support kids' most basic psychological and physical needs too."

Gerber is a sports writer for the Jamestown Sun.
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