No school but students are getting their education
The COVID-19 crisis has shut down Nome Public Schools but the learning continues. Nome schools are developing ways to make sure the students continue with their education.
“We’re getting our minds around this new situation,” said Nome-Beltz High Principal Jay Thomas. “Learning how to work online isn’t new to us. It’s just that we haven’t had to do it as our primary method of delivery.”
The high school is using a Google product called Google Classroom so teachers can connect directly with the students. “It means digitally they can post their assignments,” said Thomas. “So rather than burning all those trees up to make copies they just open their Google Classroom, click on the assignment, they can type into space to answer a question just like we used to write it with a pencil. Then they drop it into a drop box and it goes right to the teachers.”
The high school learning is not streamed, it’s digitally delivered. “We don’t have the bandwidth to stream instruction,” said Thomas.
“We’ve been using Google Classroom at the middle school and high school, some teachers more than others. But every kid can go onto Google Classroom and find an assignment. It’s not something we have to teach students, we’ve already been doing it.”
The software includes many features that the school hasn’t been using so some professional development is underway. The teachers who are using it a lot are sharing their knowledge with those who are new to it. Principal Thomas said the first week is mainly about determining who has digital access. GCI has offered to connect any household without internet through May.
“We decided the first week the work we’ll be sending home on Monday will all be pencil paper,” said Thomas. “It will get posted on Google Classroom as well, so students who are already connected will still see it. They’ll get a delivery. Let’s say for English. Both of our high school English teachers are sending a new book home as well.” Monday afternoon five different teams of delivery people and delivered the packets to people’s houses. “When we get close we’ll call and say ‘Hey were just outside your door. Open your door and you’ll see us set it down.” The delivery people practice social distancing, they’ll be wearing gloves and masks. “We’re going to take all the precaution we can to deliver it,” Thomas said.
At Nome Elementary School, Principal Elizabeth Korenek-Johnson spent Monday handing out packets to students. The packets include course materials and assignments for the young students. “We’re sorting packets by household last name and have published a schedule for one member of the household to come and pick up packets on Monday, based on household last name.” Both main doors at NES were used to avoid people bumping into each other. “Beyond that if we need to make home deliveries we will do that,” she said.
“We’re calling each of our families and answering various questions and concerns,” said Korenek-Johnson. “For the most part people seem to be doing fine. I think it’s all a little confusing and there’s going to be some growing pains. But people are responding fairly well. We did have some parents come in to pick up student belongings. We’ve sorted them by class. They call ahead and we gather their things for them as much as possible. We’re having the homework packets sit over the weekend because we’ve had several different staff members handling those over the week. So we want those to sit over the weekend before we hand them out to the families.”
Principal Thomas says a lot of the kids are already on their summer schedule, arising at 11 o’clock or noon. “We’ll just deliver it in the afternoon,” he said. The Nanook shuttle parked at the ice rink on Monday afternoon. A parent could drive up and the packet would be set down outside the shuttle for them to pick up.
“I was talking to a colleague on the phone today and I told him if we approach this as an educational system the right way, for us with a school shutdown, since we can’t change that, it gives us the opportunity to do some things we otherwise wouldn’t have time to do,” said Principal Thomas. “The most limiting factor for us as educators embracing new technology and new ways is time. For the first time in my career we have some time we don’t usually have. We spent this week trying to figure out how to deliver things via the internet or in a packet. Next week, we’re going to deliver 40 percent less packets because we’ll then know who has an internet connection and can tell us they don’t need it.”
Thomas emphasizes the district has no intention of streaming instruction. There isn’t enough bandwidth. “There’s lots of cool ideas out there nationwide, but we’re still in rural Alaska. We still have some limitations for bandwidth.”
“What we have is kids who know how to use Google Classroom, they know how to access it digitally, our teachers are very good at it. Some are more in the beginning class. This maybe a little optimistic, but I think we’re going to be so much better at what we do when we open school up again, that we’ll make up that ground in the following year.”
Food delivery is all being handled by Nome-Beltz. Head cook Terri Ami is in charge of getting two meals, breakfast and lunch, to each student. “We have three buses that are delivering both a breakfast and a lunch in the same bag,” said Thomas. “We have a crew of two people on the bus, not counting the driver. The map is out on social media and it’s also on our website. The first day the kids were all sort of congregating. They said ‘Hey, when you come up here you stay away from each other!’ And they’ve done a good job of social distancing.”
There is a home delivery vehicle for households that prefer to avoid the bus stop distribution.