The Montevideo School District's distance learning program went into effect on Monday, March 30, to ensure the health and safety of its students and staff. With little time to prepare, teachers, as well as students, have both been adjusting to the changes that come with the policy.

A commonality between teachers was the opinion that the program was doing much better than was anticipated for being implemented on such short notice.

The Montevideo School District’s distance learning program went into effect on Monday, March 30, to ensure the health and safety of its students and staff. With little time to prepare, teachers, as well as students, have both been adjusting to the changes that come with the policy. A commonality between teachers was the opinion that the program was doing much better than was anticipated for being implemented on such short notice.

According to Marree Douglas of Ramsey Elementary, things have been going well given the circumstances, and the students and their parents have been working very hard.

“This whole thing is completely new to elementary students, parents, and teachers,” said Douglas. “Our elementary students have access to Chromebooks at school but not at home. In this situation, our elementary students and parents have had to learn to access their emails, Google Classroom, Google Meets, and Seesaw from home. That is very complicated. Our parents have done an amazing job of helping their students have success.”

Douglas is also proud of how the district handled making sure all of its students had device and internet connectivity.

“I also have to give a shout out to our schools for getting Chromebooks and internet access to so many students. That alone has been overwhelming,” she said. “However, it makes it so much easier when the student can be on a device that they recognize from school. We’re doing the best we can, but this obviously does not replace a regular school day.”

Dave Vik of Montevideo Middle School also mentioned the program’s success.

“It has been going a lot better than I expected,” he said. “The kids have done a fantastic job getting online, getting their work completed and asking questions if needed.”

The staff also noted that participation rate for their classes was very high, if not 100 percent, which was surprising given how quickly the students had to make the adjustment to online learning.

One of the downsides to the program, however, is that the teachers miss the classroom interaction, and are not able to build connections with their students.

“We miss interacting with the kids in person,” said Martin Christenson of Montevideo High School. “We’re not able to build those social skills or be there for the students’ mental health needs,” he explained.

Vik added, “The biggest challenge is the lack of face-to-face contact, to be able to ‘see’ the students struggling academically or emotionally.”

Douglas also misses seeing the students and teachers at school and in class.

“I miss not being able to connect with my students and colleagues every day. I think about them all the time and I miss seeing them. It’s also very difficult to meet the needs of every student from a distance. Teaching is all about forming and maintaining relationships with students, and this becomes much more difficult from a distance,” she said.

According to Ann Wachtler of Montevideo High School, students who need help or accommodations with their work are still able to receive those services.

“We do still have our paraprofessionals working with the students they would work with in class,” Wachtler said. “They check in on them and are available for them online for study hall time. All the student has to do is click one button and they are in a Google Meet, face-to-face with their para who will help them.”

Wachtler noted that one of the challenges that comes with the change is time.

“Finding the time for me to do what needs to be done has been a challenge. Second would be making sure we are supporting those students who need support. We all worry about students who might not be in a safe space outside of school. At least when they are in school, they know they are in a safe place where people care for them,” she said.

According to Christenson, some of the students are in regular contact with him regarding their schoolwork, while others have chosen to work more independently. Overall, he said, they have been stepping up to the plate, and he has been impressed by their perseverance.

“The students have really risen to the occasion. They’ve been working hard, and have done a good job battling through the challenges and embracing the changes that come with this. I believe a positive that will come out of this is that this is going to give the students the tools and the ability to overcome similar situations they may encounter later in life.”

Along with some newfound challenges, the staff are in agreement that there are several positives that come from the current situation.

Douglas said, “It has stretched me as a teacher, with respect to technology. Because of having to use technology, I have learned and tried new things. I think our parents have been amazing. They really work hard to support their students. I think our whole community has pulled together to realize that this is what is best and safe for our students and teachers, at this time.”

Vik also mentioned good things he has seen during distance learning.

“There are a lot of positives so far; the kids’ willingness to get up and be motivated on their own, the help and support of the parents, the teamwork shown by our staff, and the incredible grit the students have shown during this time.”

Wachtler had input on what she felt has come from this, too.

“Even though this is different for staff and students, the good parts of the job are still the good parts; it’s exciting when the kids do well! Also, the tools we’ve been given are working really well, we’ve had great support while learning how to use the technological tools.”

The change hasn’t been easy for students and teachers alike, but the staff are proud of the efforts the students have shown and are grateful for the bridge technology has given to still be able to interact remotely.

“All of us teachers are so thankful the community supported us with the technology referendum. If that hadn’t happened, we would not be in a good place right now,” said Wachtler.

“Lastly,” said Vik, “I would like to say how proud I am of our students, parents, school staff and entire community for their hard work and support. If there was ever a time when we had to join together and be one, it is now! Together we will get through this, but will all need the continued support from everyone!”