Waseca School District has prepared a distance learning plan for all students due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schools in Minnesota have been shut down since March 18 with the earliest date students could be back in the buildings as May 4 as announced by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz March 25.

The entire district will begin distance learning on Monday, March 30.

Waseca Public Schools have been working to create the best plan for the students in the district. This is a plan that is changing and evolving as practices are tested.

The Minnesota Department of Education is giving guidance to schools on distance learning and what tools students should have to succeed.

MDE stated these materials could be paper packets or worksheets that would be delivered, textbooks or print materials, telephone instruction, online resources and instructions from the schools learning management system.

Students at the high school have been provided Chromebooks to take home. Students without internet have made requests for assistance with receiving internet.

There are resources and assistance for students and families without internet access.

Students are required to “attend” school daily as attendance will be taken.

For grades kindergarten through sixth grade attendance will be noted as daily attendance.

Attendance for grades seven through 12 will be taken for each class as well for the Waseca Area Learning Center attendance. For the class attendance in the Waseca Public School’s plan it states teachers will use student responses to note attendance, talking with a teacher, submission of work and participation in virtual or live discussions.

Waseca High School Principal Jeanne Swanson shared that she and Assistant Principal Jason Miller are hoping to have an online school assembly for grades seven through 12 to start the week off on Monday, March 30.

“Our paraprofessional staff as well as counselors and student support staff, along with classroom instructors will be communicating with students and ready to assist students with questions,” Swanson said in an email. “Last week and this week we are getting ready. Next week we will be ready to share a more complete plan with families.

“If we are unable to attend school onsite we will not be able to hold school activities. We are remaining positive that there are some important senior events that we could postpone into summer if it becomes necessary. We will do everything we can do to celebrate with our seniors.”

Social studies teacher John Hanson is one of the many teachers at the high school preparing for distance learning for his students.

He teaches almost all seniors at the high school in economics, University of Minnesota Political Science and 10th grade U.S. History.

“We, as teachers, are very grateful that technology allows for us to still connect with, hopefully, all our students, but it will be in a very different way,” Hanson said in an email. “We are already aware of some of the major challenges that come with this crisis situation and I'm certain we'll discover more as we move forward. I am very certain that this type of education will be entirely different based on the age of the student and the content area that is being taught. I personally am grateful to be blessed with teachers that are more than willing to help me learn and develop the technological skills to do our best to be ready on Monday (March 30). The other significant challenge lies in the decisions of what is the most important content and skills I want my seniors to still acquire before they graduate and how best to deliver that instruction.”

Teachers will be using different methods to teach each of their classes based on the content.

Business education teacher Donna Hodgkins teaches a variety of classes with some requiring hands-on work for the students.

One class that she teaches is photography. The class requires students to use a camera that is usually provided by the school to take photos using different methods. Since distance learning is being implemented Hodgkins is adapting the class for students to continue to take from home.

“I definitely had to rethink how to do photography especially since the students have a variety of tools and most do not have SLR cameras so we are relying on cell phones, which definitely limits the curriculum,” Hodgkins said. “I am focusing more on composition, storytelling, history of photography and analysis of famous photographers.”

Another class she teaches is a law class. This is a class she usually has numerous guest speakers come in and she is now having to change the curriculum of how to get this information to the students. She shared that it is a huge disappointment for the kids to miss out on the speakers.

She went on to say that she is focusing more on lectures and utilizing movies and TV series to assist with analysis of the law. Students are still able to analyze cases and such in applying the law.

When it comes to grading the work students are doing through distance learning the district has come up with a plan.

For kindergarten through sixth grade teachers will follow standards-based learning and grading and will assess students based on mastery of learning targets.

Grading for seventh through 12th grade will be done as a pass fail. Individual assignments will still be graded but final scores of 60 percent and above will be passing.

ALC students will be graded using the letter grade scale, which is normally used during the school year.

When teachers make daily interaction with students it can be done in various ways.

Teachers may choose to hold a morning meeting, a Google form check-in, completion or submission of work and providing feedback, phone call or email or individual or group chat/conference.

“If we are out for the rest of the school year, I have these moments of a type of mourning ... for my seniors and the hand they've been dealt at the end of their high school career, and for us as educators who thrive on being with kids each day and how we've missed that interaction and opportunity to enjoy those relationships,” Hanson said. “But, I am so very proud of the way our school district as a whole has responded to this situation and know that at some point we'll return to normal and we will have learned and grown as professionals and will be even better at what we do for our students into the future. Until then, we'll work our hardest to do the best we can and learn as we go.”

The school district also included school-based early care and education programs in the distance learning plan.

Special education and related services will also be provided to students in accordance with their individual education program. In the plan it states the MDE understands there could be exceptional circumstances that could affect how particular service is provided.

“Staff would be delighted to work on preparations and then find out that students would return to school,” Swanson said. “At this time we are moving forward with preparations to begin delivering high quality education experiences to our students whether it is for two weeks or 10.”

Reach Reporter Bailey Grubish at 507-837-5451 or follow her on Twitter @wcnbailey. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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