Facing challenges with distance learning Print
Around the Diocese
Written by Angela Curio, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, May. 14, 2020 -- 12:00 AM
Distance Leaning Cooking
Eva Schmidt, a second grader at St. John Vianney School in Janesville, helps cook dinner for her “C” is for cooking day.
(Contributed photo)

JANESVILLE/STOUGHTON -- "Do you guys remember when Mrs. Harker told us we didn't have to come to school on Wednesday, and we were all cheering, and now we're all wishing we could go back!"

That was a comment made by one of the students in Jane Harker's fifth grade class during their weekly Google Meet video conference session on May 6.

Harker has taught fifth grade at St. John Vianney School for the last two years in Janesville. Before that, she taught at Jefferson Elementary school in the same city.

Teachers adjust to abrupt change

Speaking of the transition to distance learning after schools were forced to close on March 18, Harker described the transition as "abrupt."

"At first, I prepared the students for two weeks with a take-home style packet," she said via an email interview. "It was my intent to continue teaching the same curriculum, using our textbooks and regular class materials. After the stay-at-home order (on March 25), I realized this system of take-home work was not going to work."

Harker readjusted her curriculum to utilize more online tools. "I knew I would have to switch to online platforms in order to keep students interested and also to keep the daily pace for learning going.

"I wasn't going to be able to 'produce' the same kind of experience in a classroom, nor would I be able to transfer the materials to electronic materials quickly enough."

Harker quickly moved to many online platforms that have been providing free access since the pandemic began. "The tech companies jumped on this right away, which, in the long run, will be to their benefit."

She listed nine different platforms she is utilizing including Khan Academy for Math, Catholic Sprouts Daily Podcast for religion, and Quizlet for test prep.

"This way, I can assign appropriate lessons every day through Google Classroom, and I know my students are getting the daily dose of subjects they would be getting during their regular school day," Harker said.

Despite the challenges, she said that while she "won't completely change the way I teach when we go back to classroom learning, (I) will definitely continue to use some of these platforms."

"It's weird to say," she added. "But I feel like I have had more one-on-one interactions with (my students) even though we're not face-to-face. I will miss this when we go back."

Parents struggle for balance

As teachers have had to adjust their curriculum to distance learning, parents have had to adjust to the new environment as well.

Laura McBain, a parishioner of St. Ann Parish in Stoughton, praised the Catholic schools for being on top of things with the online learning, but said, "Even with all this great support, the transition (has been) difficult, to put it mildly."

Pregnant with her fifth child due in September, McBain said, "I was laid off at the start of this but have been brought back on (part-time) recently to do some administrative duties." Her husband, Mike, has been working from home since March 16.

"I want people who aren't parents of young children to understand that this is not all sunshine and rainbows," she said. "It is very hard to balance school, work, . . . individual time, and family time when it can be constant all the time."

Still, she finds hope and consolation when leaning on her faith. "During the many moments of self-doubt when I'm trying to coach my kids through distance learning, I have relied on Mary and St. Gianna -- my patron saint -- to help me through each moment."

The McBains' children attend three different schools, each of which started distance learning on a different date.

Karlie Schmidt, whose children attend St. John Vianney School in Janesville, normally works four days a week but had her days cut to three during the pandemic.

"I am grateful for the extra day at home!" she said. "My husband, Tim, crop farms, so this is an extremely busy time for him!"

The Schmidts have three daughters, two of whom attend the elementary school.

"During the week leading up to the school closure, we did start to prepare ourselves for the possibility of the kids being off school for a short time," Schmidt said. "We knew we would need childcare."

The Schmidts connected with their usual summer babysitter and got her to agree to babysit on the days they both work. "We felt quite relieved to have this covered ahead of time!"

Schmidt described the first week as "the most difficult" though "the teachers' were amazing at preparing materials for the kids on such short notice."

The Schmidt family understands that everyone is being affected by this pandemic differently and talk about it with their children. "We pray for families who are being challenged more than we are."

Please support our advertisers: