When Prior Lake High School Spanish teacher Kate Dunklee said goodbye to her students on March 13, she thought it was for the weekend. It turned out to be until May or later.
Dunklee and her students spent part of class time that day watching a press conference to see if Gov. Tim Walz would announce school closures in response to the coronavirus outbreak. That announcement came two days later and was extended this week to May 4.
Now Dunklee and other district teachers will see their students during a virtual class or office hours on Google Meet — the video conference platform district staff will be using for live lessons, according to the district digital learning plan released Thursday.
Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools are shifting online as students end their spring breaks. The classes they return to will be pared down both in time and curriculum.
District plans say pre-kindergarten students will have about a half-hour of instruction or work, kindergartners will have between 45 minutes to an hour, elementary students will have one to three hours, and middle and high school students should have about 30 minutes per course each day.
Elementary instruction will be delivered through Seesaw, and middle and high school course will continue with Schoology.
“Obviously you’re going to have to prioritize and tweak a little bit, but we still think we can cover the main intent,” Prior Lake High School Principal John Bezek said. “We’ve had three-fourths of the year to get through most of those items.”
Several students and parents said they feel ready for the switch, though the kids miss seeing their friends and teachers in person. Ava Wirtz, a fifth-grader at Five Hawks Elementary School, said she’s gotten some practice with the online format.
“You see your teachers and all of your classmates,” she said, but it’ll feel different, especially in her final year at the school.
“I was going to prepare for my last day at school, and I possibly could have already had my last day,” she said.
The new plan uses many of the same tools as the district’s Personalized-Flex Learning Days, but those days are meant to occur for one to two days and continue previous lessons.
The longer demand has presented material challenges. The district organized curbside pickup for school materials but is trying to limit the amount families will need. That means finding, buying and distributing textbooks online that would have been passed out in the coming weeks.
High school French teacher Jill Hanson-Follingstad said during this part of the year many of her students are reading novels, many of which aren’t easy to find virtually and in the right language.
Some courses are translating better than others to distance learning. High school physical education and health teacher Blair Rummel said her girls fitness course is probably “one of the easiest” to adapt. She plans on having her students write up or record themselves doing the class exercises at home, no materials or fear of contamination needed.
While staff are finding new ways of keeping students on track, many said there’s no replacement for the in-person interactions they’ll be missing with students over the next several weeks. When school resumes next week, Rummel will be virtually meeting and teaching a group of entirely new students.
“We’re taking it one day at a time, Karen Zwolenski, WestWood Elementary School’s principal, said during the school’s pickup event March 18. “We’re mobilizing out of love.”