Keeping school in session during the COVID-19 pandemic will be bit like learning to fly a plane while it's in the air, said Kerianne Loran, a first-grade teacher at Vista View Elementary School.
The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District is nonetheless well-prepared to meet the demands of distance learning, several district staff members said this week. Schools will begin teaching students remotely starting Monday.
"We are relying on things kids already know," Loran said, referring to online learning systems that were implemented long before the pandemic struck.
Rachel Gorton, the district's instruction and technology coordinator, said the district has invested in recent years in technology-based learning systems and related staff training since voters passed a technology levy in 2015.
One advantage for the district is the previous investment into personal devices for students. Every student in sixth through 12th grade already had a Chromebook to take home, and fourth- and fifth-grade students each had access to their own in the classroom.
The district typically had one Chromebook available for every two students in kindergarten through third grade, but Gorton said officials also pulled together enough devices to send home with each student last week.
"We can quickly build the upper parts of the tree because we have good foundation in place," Gorton said Wednesday.
Last Tuesday, the district coordinated a pickup operation for families to drive up to the schools and grab devices and other materials. Groups of teachers and other staff made deliveries to the rest of the families.
Ensuring students have internet access is another undertaking where previous district efforts are paying off. The district developed online learning plans to cover recurring snow days last year, which included a supply of internet hotspot devices for families without their own internet.
With internet providers such as Comcast offering free internet during the pandemic, most families should be able to access internet even without a district-issued hotspot device.
"It's a community-shared approach to solving this problem," Gorton said, adding she and others are taking a "build-and-layer" approach to continually circle back and make sure families have what they need.
With logistics taken care of, Loran said the focus will shift to connecting personally with students, families and colleagues during the difficult times ahead.
"Teachers are checking in on each other a lot," Loran said. "We forget that when we interact with kids each day we derive so much from teachers."
While apart, she said teachers are still finding ways to use their strengths to support their colleagues, and they hope to continue to find ways to collaborate in the coming months.
"We are in this together, we are doing what we can and we are doing a pretty good job right now," she said. "Any struggle we are having is unifying."