After two weeks of furious preparation, area schools began something called distance learning Monday, March 30. This concept has many teachers teaching from home, and all students learning from home because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Area principals were generally pleased with the first day of this new way of learning for the majority.

“I felt like we did a really good job with prep work in the last two weeks,” said Aaron Nelson, Pequot Lakes High School principal, adding that while the volume of questions from students was high, teachers were equipped to answer them.

“The big snafu today (Monday) was it was such a coordination nightmare to do bus routes to try to get materials out to every kid,” he said, adding the hope was to have that system down by Tuesday, March 31.

The vast majority of calls and comments from parents were positive, Nelson said. “They’re patient.”

Feedback from teachers was that they had a huge turnout from students “logging in like crazy,” Nelson said, noting students appear to be enthusiastic to get started.

At Pine River-Backus, high school Principal Chris Halverson praised the staffs’ work ethic and professionalism in working through this challenging time.

“Our systems are not perfect and there will be a learning curve to this process, but we are very proud of the time, effort and thoughtfulness that has been put in to make this happen for our PR-B family,” Halverson said via email.

“The increased collaboration and technology use will strengthen our district in the end and it may be the ‘silver lining’ that can be found at this time,” he wrote. “We miss our PR-B students and will be ready to safely take them back as soon as possible!"

PR-B Elementary School Principal Rick Aulie also said via email that staff has been nothing short of amazing getting students all set up with distance learning plans.

“Our professionals have rolled up their sleeves and moved forward with a positive attitude,” he wrote. “We do miss our students dearly, but there is not doubt PR-B is making the best out of this difficult situation.”

After participating in several digital meetings Monday morning, March 30, and speaking to a few families, Aulie said all attitudes seemed positive and people were all definitely working together for a common goal.

“We do anticipate some technology hiccups along the way, due to the number of people logging into the digital world, but appreciate the patience, flexibility and communication from our families,” he said.

Nisswa Elementary School Principal Molly Raske said she couldn’t be happier with how distance learning began Monday.

This came after Nisswa School families did a drive-by Friday, March 27, to collect their students’ bagged belongings and Chromebooks to prepare for Monday. Some staff members wore rubber gloves to give the items to parents in their cars. They used a walkie-talkie to radio in which students’ items needed to be brought out to the waiting parent.

The day included excited greetings from staff to parents, and especially to students who accompanied their parents.

“For the past few weeks, we have worked around the clock to ensure that all students have access to highly effective, engaging and measurable instruction. Today I can say that our work paid off,” Raske said in an email Monday.

“By 8 a.m. I was able to see students in their Google classrooms and completing their work. Our staff all had welcome back videos to welcome them and I have to say, I used up most of my tissue watching those,” she wrote. “I have had conversations with staff members and parents who are sharing stories of Google hangout lessons where all of their students were engaged in a lesson all at once, turning in assignments and all have been over the moon that we are able to reconnect.”

Cliff Skagen, Crosslake Community School executive director, said the first day of distance learning was remarkably positive with many teachers using technology to communicate with their classrooms.

Mara Powers, grades 3/4 teacher, said her students were highly engaged and excited about getting back to learning, Skagen said in an email.

“In normal times, Crosslake Community School offers both traditional K-8 site-based classes and 5-12 online classes,” Skagen wrote.

Skagen explained that distance learning is different from online classes. An online class is a delivery method that exclusively instructs students over the internet. Distance learning is a format where online instruction is just one of many tools teachers use, including video, traditional teaching materials sent to each student’s home, phone calls and more.

“Teachers at CCS went out of their way to ensure that distance learning will be a meaningful experience for all students,” Skagen said. “Last week, kindergarten teacher Mindy Glazier included a stuffed animal from when she was a child in the bag of learning materials sent to every CCS kindergartner.”

Skagen said he admired CCS staff’s ability to learn new instructional techniques, create lessons and accommodate students’ needs.

“All of the staff worked diligently and collaboratively to create high-quality lessons and make the rollout of distance learning a success. Our educators learned or increased their knowledge about technology such as Google Classroom, Zoom, Odysseyware and SeeSaw,” he said.

Like other schools, CCS did encounter a couple hiccups Monday. Seesaw, a platform to help students draw, take pictures and record videos, crashed Monday morning because of the high demand across the nation. There were also a few minor issues that students and parents encountered. A couple of parents realized their home computers were too outdated to handle some of the programs. The school solved that by providing them with a Chromebook.

Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.