Students, teachers, staff and parents had to team up to face an unprecedented challenge.

Students and teachers entered a new learning world when schools closed suddenly in March. 

“Learning is a priority, but who the kids are and how they are doing comes first,” said Todd Hering, principal of Minter Elementary School. “We’ve been talking about getting systems in place for years, and then suddenly we had to do it in a couple of weeks. I can’t say how impressed I have been with everyone — our students and how they are coming through, and with the community.”

“We teach kids that if they are really stressed they can’t learn as well. And we forget that it happens to us, too.”

Teachers were tasked with defining the essential learning that they would teach during the last few months of school. They met as grade-level teams, reviewed the learning standards, and spoke with teachers at the next level, then shared the essential learning with parents along with some strategies. 

Third grade teacher Amanda Hefa has taught for a decade and joined the Minter staff six years ago. She said that the district emphasized the impact of trauma on students over the last several years and its effect on student learning. 

“We have to remember that this is a trauma crisis time. We teach kids that if they are really stressed they can’t learn as well. And we forget that it happens to us, too. We need to take care of ourselves,” Hefa said. “Learning will come later. All of us have figured out that next fall we will have to do a lot of catch-up.”

Third graders at age eight and nine are learning independence, and that is a focus in the classroom, she said. As a result, her students, who each have their own school Chromebook, already knew how to log in, find the school portal and Google Drive, and send and receive email. 

“I have worked with all grade levels educating students daily, but working with my own child has been absolutely exhausting.”

Hefa created a weekly schedule — 60 minutes of learning each day with 20 minutes devoted to reading, writing and math — available to all students. She has videos to explain the math worksheets that students can send back to her; reading can be done through links she suggests or with books at home. “It’s important to have choice,” she said. A recent writing assignment was to create a pet rock narrative. She created packets for students without internet.

Hefa has faced her own challenges. She has an 8-month old, who may make appearances when she talks to her families, much to the delight of her students. And her own poor internet service in Lakebay means she has not been able to have Zoom classroom time. She is available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day to parents and students, and promises to get back within 24 hours if she is busy working on class content or other school activities. She has been able to contact all of her students each week.

Third-grade parent Angela Ostrom, who works as a health tech at Minter, said “Our teachers have been amazing in every way. The curriculum packets have helped me as a parent take on this new role as teacher to our daughter.” 

She added that finding a routine while continuing to work, run a household and meet the daily learning expectations for her daughter is a challenge. “I have worked with all grade levels educating students daily but working with my own child has been absolutely exhausting.”

“Fifteen minutes on math can be going outside and counting leaves, playing a game as long as it has numbers in it.”

Kari Gulbranson has taught kindergarten at Minter for seven years. She created binders for all of her students, including a schedule and activities with materials that could be cut out and reused. 

Forty-five minutes of learning each day is expected for this age group. Parents are told to spend about 15 minutes a day on reading, writing and math, but that they don’t need to limit themselves to the binder or additional activity packets. “Fifteen minutes on math can be going outside and counting leaves, playing a game as long as it has numbers in it,” Gulbranson said. 

Gulbranson holds an online Zoom classroom meeting every Tuesday and Thursday. At least half and usually more than two-thirds of her students attend each meeting. One unexpected benefit has been closer connections with families. Rather than the usual parent-teacher conferences, “I talk to them every week,” she said. 

According to the principal, assessing learning will be a challenge. The Minter staff is looking at new screening processes for next year to identify where the holes are. “The first few weeks may look like boot camps — filling those holes before moving forward. We do that to some extent every year, but this will be a bit different,” Hering said.