Thursday, October 22, 2020

ELHS navigates first week of remote learning for fall amidst COVID-19 pandemic

September 2, 2020

For the first time, East Lansing High School students are now going to be just a few clicks away from attending their classes. While the online learning began last week amid the COVID-19 pandemic, students logged onto the virtual orientation week on Aug. 24 and are now transitioning to the new remote schedule. 

East Lansing Public Schools Superintendent Dori Leyko's plan last month called for ELPS to go fully remote until at least Sept. 30 in accordance with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's current executive order.

"Our staff has been working extremely hard, and our students and parents and families have been very cooperative," ELHS Principal Andrew Wells said. "And so, we're looking forward to making this the best experience possible for all involved — students, staff, and families."

Wells said the orientation week was created to help students learn about their virtual platforms, like Google Classroom and Google Meets while also meeting their teachers and peers.

“It’s all about acclimation,” Wells said. “Also, it gave us an opportunity to talk about expectations and basically lay the groundwork for the work that we’re going to do together moving forward.”

With the collaborative effort of administrators, teachers, parents, and opinion surveys sent to the families, staff across the district adapted to the new online schedules so students can continue their learning while maintaining social distance.

The schedule posted on the ELHS website allows for synchronous instruction from 11:00 a.m. to about 3:00 p.m. every day. There is also an asynchronous section for each class where students view material and have individual work time, which can be completed whenever each student has time in their daily routine.

"I think it's definitely hard for the teachers because a lot of them haven't done online platforms like this, but I think it's also hard for the students," ELHS senior Zoe James said. "I know some of us are having issues figuring things out and just you're missing the social aspect of school, so that makes everything a bit more complicated."

James said she was surprised the school was giving the students this much independence with their learning, and letting them plan the day around when to do their classwork and homework that didn't have to be completed over Google Classroom.

“It’s been pretty easy for me, figuring everything out," James said. “(But) I’ve missed the connections that I’ve had with teachers and friends because we don’t get a lot of face-to-face time now.”

ELHS sophomore Adan Quan said the new schedule provides a more laid-back atmosphere to do work, but he also misses in-person instruction.

“I definitely would rather be in school because I can see my friends and all of my peers,” Quan said. “Like for band, it’s nice to be able to see my section mates, or classmates, even, and the band director.”

Parents who have students working at home are adapting to new routines as well. Some like Sarah Preisser, parent of an ELHS freshman and middle schooler, also have day jobs that require them to work at home and assist their children when possible.

“We’re still riding the change curve,” Preisser said. “They (the school) are still gonna hit bumps along the way and I think it’s what I expected. They’re doing their best to adapt to constantly changing circumstances.”

Preisser’s husband also works remotely, so each family member has an independent space at home where they can shut the door and work quietly, for the most part. 

“The kids are even doing online band,” Preisser said. “So, we have a baritone and a trumpet and that portion of the day is loud.”

Managing four individual schedules can be exhausting at times, but Preisser said the transition went smoothly with the added orientation week. 

“We’re going to do the best we can this year,” Preisser said. “In the big picture, it’s not a make or break year. The kids will all be fine and we kind of have to prioritize their mental health and physical well-being over whether they master geometry this year.” 

Students are able to access mental wellness resources and videos to supplement their regular lessons on the ELHS web page.

“We also kept in mind, too, that the social-emotional aspect of online learning is something that we really need to pay close attention to,” Wells said. “So, mental health (and) mental wellness is really one of our key points of emphasis.” 

Some of Quan's teachers are habitually checking-in with their students during the class sessions. He said his journalism teacher is mindful of their mental health and wants to support the students as much as he can.

Preisser has noticed the staff’s efforts as well.

“Just even talking to kids about emotions, how to gauge their mental health, and do they feel the same on the inside as they do on the outside, and getting them to talk a little about their feelings ... I think they are trying to make mental health accessible and communicate to the kids in a way that they will understand,” Preisser said.

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