Students and staff at the Minnesota Valley Area Learning Center are facing much of the same challenges as other schools are during the COVID-19 crisis. Even though the school enrolls a much smaller number of students, staff still had to figure out how to serve those students when the order came down for schools to provide distance learning.

Students and staff at the Minnesota Valley Area Learning Center are facing much of the same challenges as other schools are during the COVID-19 crisis. Even though the school enrolls a much smaller number of students, staff still had to figure out how to serve those students when the order came down for schools to provide distance learning.

“For our students, we are doing the same things they would normally do on a regular school day,” said MNVALC Director/Princi­pal Rhonda Brandt. “They have their regular eight period day, and all of our instructors are utilizing Google Classroom.”

According to Brandt, the students are able to connect with their teachers to do their assignments and also have daily or weekly conversations with their teachers about course work. “We also have an advisor program, so each day students can connect with their classroom advisor,” said Brandt.

During those sessions, advisors ask students how they are doing and how things are going. Brandt said: “They talk about the social and emotional well-being of the student. Are there issues with classes, or do the students have other concerns?”

Brandt expressed concern for the school’s seniors. “For our seniors,” she said, “a lot of them are trying to process all that is happening. We want them to know that we provide a safe place to share frustrations about what we are all encountering with COVID-19.”

So far, students have been responding well to all the changes. “I would say that 95 percent of our students are engaging on a daily basis. Some are struggling to complete assignments in a timely manner. Some of our students’ households are overwhelmed with younger siblings who also have school assignments to do. Most of our students are older and have to help out with their siblings,” Brandt said.

Another issue facing staff is student online accessibility. “I have a small group of maybe three or four kids who don’t have internet access, so the teachers will call those students to help them do work while on the call,” said Brandt. “So even if they don’t have access to the internet, there are ways to connect with students, and the telephone is one of those ways.”

It’s all been about making adjustments, for both students and staff, and making the best out of a difficult situation. Technology is helping. Brandt said: “We have enough Chromebooks for all of our students, but normally, students are not allowed to check them out; they stay in the building. We found out early on that cell phones don’t work well for classwork, so staff delivered Chromebooks to the students who needed them.”

One of Brandt’s priorities has been her seniors. She said: “I have been working closely with our teachers to make sure our seniors stay on track to graduate.”

Curriculum has stayed the same and content is being taught by the regular teachers. Requirements remain the same, as does grading. “We’re fortunate that we are in an alternative setting. Our grading process is the same. Some teachers have had to do some modification in the case of a student who has an IEP, but otherwise it is the same teachers and same schedule,” said Brandt.

According to Brandt, each teacher has a scheduled time during which students can meet with them online or by phone. The teacher pre-record their classes, which gives students some flexibility in when they watch their classes.

Brandt is quick to credit her staff for the success of distance learning. “We’re very fortunate to have the staff that we do,” she said. “They have a philosophy of doing what’s best for our students.”

ALC staff also have weekly meetings online through Google Meet where they discuss students who may be struggling. “We talk about what we need to be doing to help them, and who will contact the parents,” said Brandt.

The MNVALC has 75 students enrolled in their seat-based program, and another 114 students who are involved in the Individual Learning Program. Diplomas can be awarded throughout the year, depending on when a student completes their credits. Brandt said: “We’ve awarded 84 diplomas so far this year to ILP students, and I believe that we will have another seven or eight students that will complete their requirements prior to the end of the year.”

Even though it really isn’t school as usual, the staff and students of the ALC are doing the best they can to make the most out of the remaining school year.