Schools shift gears as distance learning kicks in

TRACY AREA HIGH SCHOOL teacher Heather Kamrud is one of many educators who have had to learn a new way of teaching since school closed during the COVID-19 outbreak. Photo / Per Peterson

By Per Peterson

The cafeteria at Tracy High School isn’t typically full on Monday mornings. But March 16 wasn’t your typical day.

Employees of District No. 2904 gathered that morning to receive guidance from Tracy Area Public Schools Supt. Chad Anderson, who just a day before had received word from the State of Minnesota that schools would be shutting down for at least two weeks (from March 18-March 27) to comply with social distancing in a widespread effort to help curb the spread of COVID-19 in Minnesota. Those two weeks were considered a “planing period” for staff.

The news shook the school district and forced all education institutions to switch gears during unprecedented times. The unknown added an extra layer of frustrations and questions for everyone.

“It’s been quite a ride,” said teacher Heather Kamrud. “At first, it was surreal. I think it took that first entire day to switch gears and let go of how I envisioned the rest of the school year was going to look and figure out how we’re going to start chipping away at this big mountain.”

That “mountain” is distance learning, which became a reality on March 25, when Gov. Tim Walz authorized the Commissioner of Education to order all schools to stay closed and distance learning to be implemented from March 30 through May 4; the executive order states that the distance learning period will be extended for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year if deemed necessary for the safety of students and staff.

Knowing weeks ago that distance learning could very well begin by the end of March, school staff was forced to learn on the fly. All of a sudden, learning by Zoom became a thing, and teachers had a small window of time to not just react to a school shutdown, but prepare for a new world of teaching and learning.

“It’s a lot of work to transfer your entire curriculum to something new,” Kamrud said.

See this week’s Headlight Herald for more on this article.