Class began today [Monday] for students in the Spokane School District. Instead of walking into real-life classrooms, they’ll be logging into virtual classrooms, at least for now.
Last week, the teachers and staff at Regal Elementary in northeast Spokane held a week of get-acquainted conferences with students and parents on the school playground. It was their chance to meet face-to-face and for students to check out the laptop computers they’ll use to access class every day.
Rochelle Davis is one of those rare teachers who will, at least in the beginning, see children in person. She teaches students in special education programs.
“Five kids on, Mondays-Tuesdays, and five on Wednesdays and Thursdays. But very limited time; they’re only coming for three hours a day," Davis said.
That’s a particular challenge, she says, for students need personal, one-on-one attention.
“The last six months has been really hard that even that small amount of time is going to make a huge difference in their life, to come back and be in the classroom. We might all be wearing masks or shields, but to see each other physically and be in the room together is going to get us a lot farther than we did in the springtime," she said.
The first lessons, Davis says, will be things that schools have never had to think about.
“We’re going to focus the first two days on how to greet people by social distancing and all the rules, show them the classroom and where all the parameters are set up. We’re going to do our best and we know that it won’t be perfect, but it’s better than having them home all day," she said.
When they are home, Davis says she’ll need their parents to be occasionally engaged, to be the guiding adults when teachers can’t physically be there.
“A lot of kids are working on handwriting. So, when they’re in the classroom, it’s a lot of hand-over-hand, so if we can get the parents to be involved and help out and if we can explain to the parents like, where to grab on the hand to help them write their names," Davis said.
Principal Tricia Kannberg says teachers have used their summer to further adapt their strategies in case they had to continue online.
“I think we have a structure in place that’s going to make it manageable for students. It’s not too much. We’re not placing them in front of a computer for six, six-and-a-half hours a day. It’s manageable chunks. Our teachers are well-versed in how they can do short little chunks. Give a little mini lesson. Have the kids go off and do something and then return to the computers so it’s not a solid time on the computer," she said.
On this first morning, Kannberg says it’s all about getting students to sit down as if they were going to school and getting them properly logged in.
“It’s that first few times that they’re logging on and then maybe they don’t find success so they get frustrated and it’s trying to teach that perseverance of ‘No, it’s ok, you can’t break it. We’re going to try again’ or ‘We’re going to step alongside you and we’re going to walk you through how to log in.’ Then, once you feel that success, you’ll be able to navigate what you need to with teacher support," she said.
Kannberg says she and her staff will be monitoring how many children log in and how many don’t. For those who don’t, they’ll be on the phone to parents to diagnose the problems. The goal, she says, is to establish a new school habit, just as students had a habit of getting up and physically going to school in normal times.