When Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced on March 15 that schools across the state would close to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the teachers and staff at St. Joseph Catholic School in Waconia sprang into action. Although Governor Walz declared that schools could use a two-week time period to prepare for online learning, St. Joe’s was ready for students to start distance learning after only one week.
Using Microsoft Teams and an online platform for younger students called SeeSaw, St. Joe’s students and teachers settled into the new way of learning. As the first week drew to a close, there was one thing that was clear: everyone missed the interactions of a typical school day. Despite that, teachers, students, and parents found many positives to the new method of learning.
Flexibility was a commonly mentioned “silver lining.” Eighth-grade student Caitlin Sieve appreciated that she could work at her own pace and get her work done during the school day to leave her evenings free. A classroom of seventh-grade students agreed that they enjoyed the earlier end to the day. With the warmer weather right around the corner, students have been working and helping their parents outdoors as well as spending time with their animals. Parent Andrea Egli found her family was able to spread the school tasks throughout the day in order to enjoy the warm spring weather, “It’s a nice change for our family,” she said.
Seventh-grade teacher Janice Matlon could already see after the first week that distance learning was helping middle-schoolers be more efficient and diligent. She hoped that this style of learning would help build great habits that students will use throughout their lives. STEM teacher Amy Gallus said that even the teachers themselves were receiving an education as they all learned a new way to interact with students. “Remote learning has forced me to learn both new applications of technology and develop new ways to make connections with my class…this has led me to really think about what’s important and to keep that at the forefront of my interactions with my students,” Gallus reflected.
Fourth-grade teacher Brooke Maciaszek discovered that online interactions allowed her to give each student verbal feedback on each task they completed, something she doesn’t always have time to do during a traditional school day. Third-grade teacher Nadine Metling found joy in viewing the videos her students submit.
Gratitude was another common sentiment. Parents were grateful for the way St. Joe’s teachers and staff responded to the unexpected situation so quickly and professionally. Parent Julie Loscheider said she appreciated the effort put forth by teachers, “I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to plan all these lessons virtually, but our teachers definitely rose to the occasion.”
There were some “bright sides” to the situation that aren’t exactly related to education. St. Joe’s students are required to wear uniforms and it seemed most students enjoyed leaving their uniforms hanging in the closet. While everyone hoped the uniforms won’t go unused for too long, St. Joe’s successful first week of online learning will provide a strong foundation to ensure students can complete the academic year.