Schools scramble to adjust to remote learning
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Schools scramble to adjust to remote learning

STURGIS | Teacher Kelli Grubl had typewritten words of encouragement for her first-graders at Sturgis Elementary School, who have been away from school for more than two weeks.

“I want you to know how proud I am of you,” Grubl wrote.

“You are adjusting to something totally different and new. Rockstar! I know you are going to do great! Please know that I miss you and can’t wait to see you again.

“I am with you every step of the way. You are going to ROCK this adventure. Enjoy your day and keep READING!,” she concluded.

Her message, typed in a happy font, was affixed to a manila envelope containing lesson plans for the next month, as teachers and students alike adjust to a new normal of learning away from the classroom.

Schools have been closed since mid-March by Gov. Kristi Noem, with students continuing their education remotely at least until the first week in May, due to the continuing spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus).

Sturgis elementary students and their parents picked up their lesson packets on Tuesday, along with a plastic bags containing supplies from their school desks.

“This is all so different,” Grubl said, as she handed out packets to her students from the school parking lot.

Most schools across the state and in the Black Hills have had to convert on the fly to a distance-learning format, either through printed lesson plans or online platforms, such as Schoology, Google Classroom and Blackboard.

Students, their parents, teachers and administrators are now finding out what works and what needs improvement in distance-learning plans that didn’t exist a month ago.

“This is like building an airplane in the air,” said Meade 46-1 superintendent Jeff Simmons. “We need to figure things out as we’re moving.

“We know it’s not perfect, but we’re doing the best we can to adjust,” Simmons said.

That included adjusting to week-by-week school closures until Monday, when Gov. Noem recommended schools remain closed at least through May 3 to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Schools have not only responded with plans to continue the learning process remotely, but have also geared up through school kitchen services to provide grab-and-go meals, including a lunch for one day and breakfast for the next morning, distributed curbside.

Spearfish superintendent Kirk Easton said his staff has worked hard to chart a course through new waters.

“My teaching staff and even my paras (paraprofessionals) worked incredibly hard last week, the three days that we had off prior to spring break, to put all these wheels into motion and create things that they have never been asked to create before,” Easton said.

Easton also knows there are frustrations with the new frontier of distance learning his district is going through and asked for patience.

“We’re working though things each building, the principal and their staff are working through things to try make this experience the best we can under the current situation. Again, systems will improve, and the delivery of instruction will improve over time,” he said.

Lead-Deadwood school superintendent Dan Leikvold said the district was aware of the potential spread of the coronavirus and told its staff to begin preparing accordingly.

On March 11, before the district’s spring break, Leikvold sent a letter to his staff and parents that contained information on Centers for Disease Control COVID-19 guidelines and personal hygiene.

“And we basically said to the teachers, you really need to start thinking about what remote learning looks like, because it looks like we’re heading there,” he said.

“We’ve got great teachers and I’m guessing a lot of them started planning right then,” he said.

On Friday, March 20, students were given a specific half-hour window to come to the school to pick up personal items and school-issued laptops.

Leikvold said the district also sent guidelines for physical activity to go with the lesson plans.

“We don’t just want them laying around,” he said.

Belle Fourche school superintendent Steve Willard said students in grades 5-12 are receiving school assignments through online platforms.

“Teachers are sending them their assignments and then working with them to get them through the assignments, then evaluating them,” he said.

Students in kindergarten through fourth grade have received printed lesson packets to get them through the next few weeks.

“It’s going really well. I’m very happy with what our principals and teachers have come up with,” Willard said.

“We’ll just keep plugging away until we get to go back to school,” he said.

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