By Jared Janzen
HALSTEAD—Students and teachers in the Halstead-Bentley School District stepped foot this week into the uncharted territory of continuous learning from home for the next seven weeks.
Halstead High School
At Halstead High School, Principal Joe Gerber said teachers had spent Monday and Tuesday of this week reaching out to students and seeing how they were doing after the extended two-week spring break. Assignments were set to begin Wednesday.
High School students will be expected to spend no more than 30 minutes per day per class, for a total of no more than three hours a day of schoolwork. Teachers will be delivering this content in a wide variety of ways, including learning packets, Google Classroom and Zoom meetings.
“Every single teacher has submitted their plan for how they’ll communicate with students and what assignments they’re going to be requiring,” Gerber said.
Some subjects, like social studies and English/language arts, will be teaming up and delivering content together.
Some teachers have had to get creative, like industrial arts teacher Chris Wilson, who’s asking his students to find a project around their home that they can do each week. It doesn’t have to be carpentry related and can be anything from changing oil in a vehicle to planting flowerbeds.
Music classes, like band and choir won’t be able to rehearse together like normal, so directors Shelbie Green and Claire Clifford are planning learning opportunities for their students relating to technique, theory, composition, listening and history. Each week, students will look through the different projects offered and choose one to work on and turn in on Friday.
Gerber noted that interrelated teachers Casson Schmidt and Jenny Rehse had been challenged to find ways to meet state and federal requirements for their students.
“But they got creative and are working through it,” Gerber said.
District staff have also been working last week to make sure students have access to Chromebooks and Gerber noted that the 1-1 initiative the high school had gone to a year ago had really prepared them for this need.
Staff has been collaborating almost daily through Zoom meetings the past two weeks to prepare.
“We’re really fortunate to have the teachers that we do that are so flexible,” Gerber said.
He acknowledged that the abrupt change to the school year had been hard for students and teachers alike.
“Our teachers miss the heck out of our students,” Gerber said. “We all feel really bad for all of our students, but especially our seniors.”
Staff is working to consider options for what graduation will look like for those seniors.
“I want to make sure we honor our seniors in the most special way possible,” he said. “What that’s going to be, I don’t know, but I’m sure we’re going to do it.”
He said a traditional ceremony of crossing the stage at the high school wasn’t out of the question, even if it were delayed to June.
Halstead Middle School
Middle school principal Jana Wedel said the key word in the past two weeks has been “pivot” as staff works to adapt to an ever-changing situation.
“Our teachers have been amazing,” she said. “They’ve stepped up to the plate and figured out new or different ways to do things.”
She admitted it has been frustrating at times as they’ve worked through the best way to do things, but they’ve worked through those challenges and kept focused on reducing the learning gap for students and maintaining relationships with them.
Fourth- through sixth-graders will be expected to put in 90 minutes of schoolwork each day. Meanwhile, seventh- and eighth-graders will follow the same schedule as the high school of 30 minutes per class for a max of three hours a day.
Wedel said the majority of teachers would be using Google Classroom with their students, something they’re already familiar with.
“Google Classroom is not new to students,” she said. “What’s different is teachers won’t be standing in front of the class saying ‘Go to Google Classroom and work on it.’”
This first week, the main goal will be making sure all students have the technology capabilities to connect with teachers and also start introducing them on how to connect with Zoom video meetings.
Teachers will still be finding ways to incorporate project-based learning and STEAM concepts as students learn from home. For example, fifth graders will still be constructing Rube Goldberg machines for their science class at home.
“I know our kids are pretty resourceful and pretty creative,” Wedel said.
The school is also looking for ways to support the social/emotional health of students. Bear the therapy dog and handler/librarian Joell Matlack will be posting weekly videos for students.
She noted that keeping students accountable has also been discussed amongst staff. Platforms like Google Classroom or Dreambox notify teachers when students have logged in, plus teachers will use Zoom meetings to check in with students face-to-face.
Wedel added that she thinks students and teachers can make the rest of the year successful, as evidenced by the way the community has already come together in support.
Bentley Primary School
Bentley Primary School principal Adam Conard said he was very optimistic about continuing educating for students during this tough situation.
“These next seven weeks, learning is going to occur,” he said. “I do not think we’ll see as drastic of a decline as what we first expected when we heard that schools would be closing.”
Conard said the primary school would be following a “less is more” philosophy with learning in the coming weeks.
Under the state guidelines, kindergartners and first-graders will have a maximum of 45 minutes of instructional time each day, while second- and third-graders will have 60 minutes.
“Following the less is more approach, there’s not going to be a lot of assignments,” Conard said. “It’ll be more interactive things for kids to do with their families.”
Conard said a lot of activities would encourage exploration and that students would have flexibility as to what time of day they do them to accommodate parents’ schedules.
Teachers will primarily be using the platform, Seesaw, to communicate with students and parents these next few weeks. This allows teachers to upload instructional videos and allows students to post response videos. It also simplifies communication with rotation teachers—music, STEAM, P.E. and library—so that these teachers can provide instruction through the student’s primary classroom teacher.
He said that he’s been encouraging teachers to do lots of social/emotional health check-ins during this first week back to make sure students are doing OK and have the tools they need to moving forward. He said very few students at BPS don’t have internet access at home, estimating less than 5 percent. For those that don’t, the school will provide paper packets.
“My teachers have been incredible with being on board with this,” Conard said. “They realize this situation is not ideal for learning and also understand what parents are going through, so we’re lightening the educational load to cause less stress on parents.”
Conard added that in the coming weeks, teachers may need to pivot their instructions to adapt to needs that may arise.
“We’re asking parents to provide us grace and to know that we will adjust as needed,” he said.