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Boreal Community Media

Amid COVID-19, Cook County Schools has embraced a new learning curve: Distance Learning

Apr 27, 2020 06:26AM ● By Editor
An empty classroom at Cook County Schools reminds everyone of the new distance learning curve being experienced by our students and teachers alike.  All photos by Boreal Community Media.

Editor's Note:  Ellen Callender is Boreal Community Media's first student digital media journalism intern.  Ellen is a life-long resident of Cook County and currently is in her senior year at Cook County High School and plans to attend 
Gustavus Adolphus College to major in English this fall.  In the meantime we look forward to her articles about life in Cook County and in turn, Boreal is happy to offer her real world reporting experience with this internship - made in part possible by a grant from the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation. 

By Ellen Callender, Exclusive to Boreal Community Media - April 27, 2020

Amid the outbreak of COVID-19, Cook County Schools has been introduced to a new learning curve: Distance Learning. While this has been an adjustment for all of us, it is an opportunity for both students and teachers to learn alongside each other. The school district has continued to support the meal program, provide technology for students, and of course, deliver morning announcements.

Principal Megan Myers is proud of teachers, students, and everyone working together to make distance learning successful. “During the distance learning, our students have done an amazing job of transitioning. Teachers have had positive virtual meetings with both academics and building relationships with students in a virtual environment. Teachers have had to grow and stretch their skill to accommodate this learning and teaching style--I am proud to say that our teachers have rallied around each other for support of students and each other. Our support crews at the school continue to work: paraprofessionals work virtually with students; food service, bus drivers and paraprofessionals make and deliver meals, and our custodial staff continues to clean and keep our building safe. Mr. Dorr continues to connect with students through his morning announcements, emails and phone calls home.  One thing is for sure WE MISS OUR STUDENTS! And, we can't wait to have everyone back in our school! I am proud of our SCHOOL!”

Assistant Principal Mitch Dorr says, “From my perspective the teachers, staff, and students have really stepped up to the plate.  At the beginning, teachers had just three days to prepare.  Each week their instruction gets better. The bus drivers, para professionals, and kitchen staff have been amazing with the delivery of the class materials and lunches.  We are serving over 350 lunches each day to kids throughout the county. Our students body has been second to none.  They continue to show us that they are engaged in learning and care about their education. This is far from perfect and we can't wait to get students back in the classroom, however, we have pulled together as a school community and that is what is most important.”

 A staging area at Cook County Schools awaits distribution of learning materials to students for their next lessons.  Photo:  Boreal Community Media

Teachers at Cook County Schools provided insight on both highlights and challenges of distance learning--many have found their students to be remarkably capable, resilient, and hard working despite the sharp transition. During the first few weeks, it has become obvious to teachers that students are learning and improving every day. 

April Wahlstrom has enjoyed checking in with families over the phone, reading their thoughtful questions and comments, and getting to know what her students are interested in. She enjoyed getting to chat face-to-face with her AP Environmental Science class as well as connecting with her other students. Some challenges faced by Mrs. Wahlstrom is the inability to check-in with her students as much as she would like, especially face-to-face. 

For Andrew Feddema, he says that students have been very good about turning in work and checking in for attendance. A clear line of communication, structure and clear due dates have been the most important aspect in the process so far. He encourages families to stay positive throughout the process and make the most of a less-than-ideal situation. 

Erin Petz, who teaches Spanish, relies heavily on listening comprehension in the classroom. Distance learning has definitely been an adjustment for Spanish classes, but Sra. Petz is working hard to strike a balance between academics and well-being. She is grateful for the tremendous amount of outside resources that are available for Spanish teachers. 

Megan Rubbelke has been really enjoying checking in with her students daily. Her students’ answers to her silly poll questions always put a smile on her face. She says she has seen students developing communication and questioning skills, and while many students appear to enjoy their independence, many also miss the structure and guidance of being in the school building.

While teachers, students and families are all learning to work through distance learning, teachers have advice for students and families: largely, they want students to know that they are every teacher’s main priority. Communication is key, and teachers are always here to support a student whenever it is needed. 

The empty hallways at Cook County Schools long to hear the ring of student voices again.  Photo: Boreal Community Media.

If you have an idea for a story you would like Ellen to cover, email your suggestions to [email protected].

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