LAKE CITY -- Who would have guessed that having 12 snow days last year would prepare students, teachers, and parents for the current school shutdown caused by COVID-19? For the Lake City schools, that seems to be exactly the case.

The district developed flexible learning days to accommodate the need to be away from the building for snow days. The program, while effective, was meant for one or two days after storms.

“This is different,” said Greg Berge, Lincoln High School principal. “This is meant to teach entire units. It’s meant to assess kids in different ways. We still have to take attendance, and we need live, face-to-face interaction, as well.”

Minnesota schools may start implementing distance learning plans on Monday, March 30.

To accomplish all those learning goals, the district has taken a program called Schoology, a learning management system they have used for several years, and made that their online learning platform. They have added an app called Zoom to enable face-to-face times for every class each week.

“Everything through Schoology is how we normally communicate with kids,” Berge said. “It brings everything together. It is our grade book and our management system. It is how teachers store materials and how teachers get materials to kids. There are message boards where kids are messaging with teachers and each other. We already have the learning management system 100% spot on.”

The new part will be adding Zoom. Teachers can use Zoom to speak to an entire class, small groups of students, or a single student. Each class will have a scheduled time for Zoom, and teachers and students will all be able to see each other during these discussions.

“All of our teachers want to see their students,” Berge said. “The relationship piece is important to us. I am happy that we have a plan that we can meet face to face with kids during a really tough time. That’s a positive thing.”

To make all of this work, every student must have internet access, so Berge and staff members contacted every student to make sure no one was left out. He said some students did not have internet access, but might have a cellphone, and the local Verizon office offered to donate hot spots to those students so they can access their iPads at home. Other students may need to contact teachers by phone or have materials delivered to them.

“This is a scary time for a lot of people,” Berge said. “The school is an important part of the community, and we are doing everything we can to help support our kids and support our families until we work through this.”

Tom Horner, 2019 Minnesota Physical Education Teacher of the Year, said one of the most important things that has happened because of the school shutdowns is that he has been in contact with physical education teachers from across the country.

“Everybody is coming together and sharing what works best for them,” Horner said. “You take bits and pieces from all those resources and use what fits best into your school.”

Horner said he and his teaching partner, Mary Mann, have worked hard to develop a curriculum to keep their students active and healthy while they are staying home. They have selected sources for exercise programs which often give students the choice of workouts they want to do, and they have listed their weekly workout programs at docs.google.com/document/d/1qh0YOG4cGLqrhmUMQdDDY0k9Aw1BgOOBltY7YZ7tZs0/edit.

With so many parents staying at home with their children, Horner said he hopes many families will get involved in the workouts as something they can do together.

Math teacher Becky Houghton said using Zoom is a critical part of this process.

“Just being able to see our faces helps many kids think that they can get through their day,” Houghton said. “They see us, and it is something familiar, something normal. They know we are going to be there for them.”

However, that is still not the same as being in a classroom.

“Many of us, as teachers, walk into the classroom and take the temperature of the classroom every day,” Houghton said. “You know how the students are understanding the material and how they are acting and reacting to what you are presenting. This is going to be a huge challenge, because we are not going to have that thermometer to gauge how our kids are doing.”

Houghton said Minnesota is blessed with incredible teachers who will make the most of this situation and help their students get the most out of the time available. In fact, she said this may be an excellent staff development opportunity because everything that is being done is experimental.

“This could change school as we know it, because we are going to learn so much through this,” she said. “We have been given this huge learning opportunity as professionals, and how we deal with it is going to be telling. This has the potential to be our finest hour.”

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