Teachers reflect on early end of school year

Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Monticello schools have been closed since Friday, March 13. (The following week, March 16-20, was spring break.)

     On March 17, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced schools would be closed, and has since extended that closure a couple of times. On Friday, April 17, Reynolds finally announced a full closure of all schools in Iowa.

     Since the 13th with students at home, teachers have been reaching out to them as much as possible, sharing educational materials that can be done at home.

     The Express contacted several teachers in the community for insight into how distance learning has been going from their perspective. (This was prior to the announcement of schools closing for the remainder of the school year.)

Laura Zumbach, second grade, Scared Heart Catholic School

     Since school closed, Zumbach has remained in contact with her parents/students. She’s reached out via e-mail and Facebook asking she can help with anything at home, or how things are going in general with her families.

     “I love to see the pictures of my students on Facebook, what they are going, and how they are doing,” she said.

     Zumbach has sent packets of educational materials to her parents, things that can be reviewed at home. She also just started sending materials based on her classroom curriculum as well.

     She’s shared educational websites, too, one that allows her, as the teacher, to communicate back with her students on their progress.

     She encourages parents to work with their kids each day, even if it’s reading for 15 minutes.

     “Try to get them to do the work,” she urged. “Also, encourage lots of hands-on activities, drawing, building with blocks or Legos, dancing with YouTube videos, anything helps.”

     When school ended on March 13, Zumbach’s second graders were in the midst of learning about First Communion. She said the work is continuing at home on this particular topic, with students missing out on deep discussions with their peers in the school setting. For now, Zumbach said a date for First Communion has not been determined, with churches closed to the public.

     The current situation involving distance learning and homeschooling is new for so many. Zumbach reminds everyone to be patient. “This time is stressful for teachers as well. Please, as a parent, understand that we are all in this together.”

     Upon hearing schools would be closed for the remainder of the year, Zumbach said it’s heartbreaking for everyone.

     “When we left for spring break, it was see you in a week. It wasn’t a goodbye.

     “I miss my students very much, and thought of them as my kids. I didn’t get a proper goodbye, and am heartbroken with how the school year ended.”

Jenny Claussen, kindergarten, Shannon School

     Despite teaching kindergarteners, Claussen is using SeeSaw to keep in touch with her students. (SeeSaw is an app that allows teachers to stay engaged with students through messages, work, read-a-louds, announcements, photos, videos, drawings, and so much more.) Claussen said SeeSaw can be used on one’s smartphone, computer, or tablet, so it’s accessible most anywhere.

     “I have sent out to families about what distance learning would look like going forward and have helped parents stay informed,” she said. “We can communicate back and forth, which is so important.”

     She said if a student is struggling with an educational standard, she can share certain activities for those particular students.

     “When students complete an activity, I comment on their work,” said Claussen, trying to keep things as “normal” as possible.

     She also shares pictures and videos weekly with her students so they can see what she’s been up to since school closed.

     “It is nice that students are able to see me and some have sent videos back to me, which are such a joy to watch.”

     In addition, Claussen mailed a personal letter to each of students with pictures of her and her family. She asked them questions, too, prompting them to write back to her.

     With the MCSD doing voluntary learning, Claussen said it’s important that the work going out to students provides everyone with the same educational opportunities.

     “We tried to assign activities that were used in class so that students knew how to complete this work independently,” she said of all kindergarten teachers working on distance learning together.

     That “assigned” work includes math lessons and a worksheet, leveled reading, and sight words.

     “It has been difficult because as teachers, we know that we are missing out on valuable teaching time with our students,” said Claussen. “As kindergarten teachers, we had such a good flow going as far as making sure we would be done with all of our curriculum with time to spare at the end of the year.

     “My only hope is that I have done my job well enough that my students have everything they need before going into first grade.”

     In her advice to parents/families, Claussen encourages a healthy balance of time at home: family time, exercise time, educational time, reading time, etc. Also, as a parent, she is having her own kids make time for schoolwork each day to “keep their brains active.”

Tricia Lambert, third grade, Carpenter School

     Lambert reflected on an early end to the 2019-20 school year…

     “May is a magical time of the year for all staff and students. The students have grown both physically and academically, but also emotionally and in maturity. We are so proud of them for all their hard work, dedication, and accomplishments. It’s a time of celebration and happiness for their future and the good things coming their way. There is renewed energy with summer coming. And, we miss all of that. We miss the hugs and high fives. We miss the celebration of 100 percent on a test, finally meeting a reading goal, or figuring out a math problem or concept. We miss the relationships that have formed and grown. We will miss all of that and more…it is just so sad.”

     Like Claussen, Lambert has also been keeping up with her students and families via SeeSaw, as well as social media, e-mail, and old-school phone calls. She’s also done read-a-louds on Zoom with her students.

     Lambert has been staying up to date by sending weekly lesson plans for her families to follow, if they choose.

     “Most of our activities are done on SeeSaw and are independent,” she said.

     She’s also been reaching out to her families with information on mental and emotional health during this time.

     “Do the best you can,” urged Lambert of working with students from home. “Set schedules with times, and make sure kids read every day. Go outside. Play games. Make time for creativity.”

     With school closed now, Lambert said her students will be missing out on so much fun activities such as plants, forces of motion, fractions, geometry, not to mention fieldtrips and guest speakers like the KCRG-TV9 weather team.

Laura Schmitt, 8th-grade history, 7th/8th-grade Family and Consumer Sciences, Middle School

     Schmitt has also been using SeeSaw, as well as Google Classroom, to keep in contact with her students/parents.

     “As a district, we also contacted students and families to find out there access to technology and the Internet before this week of more focused learning,” she said.

     Now, middle school teachers are sending out work that focuses on the core classes.

     She said students have been keeping in touch via Google Classroom, notes, and e-mails.

     Schmitt has been sending parents lists of educational websites and activities they can do with their kids at home. Each week on Monday morning, the eighth-grade staff will post activities for the week using Google Classroom.

     When school let out on March 13, Schmitt said her students were in the middle of curriculum units. In history, they were learning about how to analyze documents and write essays.

     “We are attempting to do some of it in an online version of the program,” she said. “But we won’t be able to go in-depth and do the writing we would have done in the classroom setting.”

     In her FCS classes, they were preparing for an end-of-the unit assessment. Schmitt said all exploratory classes will not be the focus during this time of remote learning.

     “Since the learning is voluntary and not assessed, it is difficult because we have some participation from students, but not all, and we are trying to give smaller amounts of work due to the situation,” she said.

     Like the other educators, Schmitt also encourages parents to set a learning schedule while at home right now, “so you are able to give kids time to learn, time to move and exercise, time to communicate with friends/family, and of course, time to help out at home.”

     Schmitt said everyone is in this together. “This is an unprecedented time in history fore all of us. We just have to do the best that we can in the situation we have been presented.”

Adam Szurkowski, social studies, High School

     Technology and using communication tools/apps is nothing new for high school-aged kids. So for Szurkowski, it’s pretty easy for him to stay connected with his students thanks to e-mail and Google Classroom.

     “The students have been pretty good about communicating if they want to reassess something they were working on before school ended,” he said.

     Parents can also log onto Google Classroom to see the work their students are engaged in.

     Szurkowski said he makes it a point of completing all large projects and assignments before spring break. So fortunately his students didn’t have anything that was put on hold when school was cancelled.

     Szurkowski acknowledges this difficult time for families, whether working from home or not.

     “Even if parents set aside 30 minutes a day for education, it’s better than nothing,” urged Szurkowski. “Any little bit helps!”

     Like every other teacher, Szurkowski admitted he also misses seeing his students every day.

     “Even though we aren’t seeing our students daily, students should know that their teachers are still there for them,” he offered. “We are just one e-mail away if they need any help or someone to talk to.”


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