While high school seniors will graduate in June and most students will move ahead a grade this fall, the rest of the spring remains a mystery amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With all schools closed indefinitely, and staff and students working from home, it’s the start of a new normal.

After a week off for a well-timed spring break, Oregon School District teachers spent Monday prepping for virtual instruction to begin through what could be the remainder of the school year. But one positive is they’ve had some time to prepare for the massive change, OSD assistant director of learning and student achievement Jon Tanner told the Observer.

“They have spent many hours during the past two weeks redesigning lessons, learning new tools, and adjusting to the ‘new normal’ so we can provide students with the best possible education, given our limitations,” he wrote in an email Monday, March 30.

Still, the change from in-school to at-home learning – with teachers and peers miles away – is significant.

“It is a big challenge, since so much of our students’ school experience is hands-on,” Tanner said.

To help smooth that transition, the district distributed more than 1,000 Chromebooks and nearly 100 mobile internet access hotspots last month for families without internet access, as the bulk of the assignments will be online.

“While we don’t want students staring at a screen for long hours each day, the Internet is obviously a good way to stay connected and provide some instruction,” he said. “We know not everything will go smoothly on day one, but we are planning to get feedback from students, parents, and staff, then adjust to make improvements.”

Rapid conversion

In the meantime, educators have used the past few weeks to get their home classrooms in order and prepare for virtual teaching.

Oregon High School art teacher Michael Derrick’s new workstation is complete with an antique desk from the Randolph’s People’s Telephone Company in Oregon, where his father worked.

“It was originally the operator’s desk from the early 1900s,” he wrote the Observer. “Dad took it and refinished it.”

Now it serves as the space for Derrick to plan his lessons – not easy for educators like him used to working so hands-on with students and their many projects.

“I miss being with my classes where I can help with personalized learning and provide better one-on-one help,” he wrote. “We are making do, though.”

OHS technology education teacher Ryan Stace is another teacher converting a traditionally hands-on learning curriculum into a relevant online format. To help, he’s using Schoology software that was the primary method of instruction for students who missed class time, he said.

“I’m doing my best to sift through the resources and put together meaningful activities for the students for as long as school will be utilizing this online format,” Stace wrote the Observer. “The activities might not be as hands-on as they are used to in the regular school setting, but they will certainly still be educational.”

Maintaining communication

For Oregon Middle School seventh grade geography teacher Laura Stoller, her biggest consideration is anticipating what students can do independently, and planning high interest activities.

“We really want to keep them engaged and learning, and that requires a delicate balance of just enough challenge, just enough review material, just enough support,” she wrote the Observer in an email Tuesday. “It’s hard enough to do that in person, but without having the daily personal interactions, it becomes even tougher. We are used to making modifications and differentiating for our students based on what happens in the classroom.”

To stay connected, Stoller and her students use Google Hangouts and Google Meet for some face time.

“When we are doing in-person instruction, we can at least see them each day and know they’re okay,” she said.

To connect with his students, OHS social studies teacher Chris Wiegman is using Flipgrid, a social learning platform where a question or prompt is posed and students respond in a short video.

“It allows us to communicate and collaborate together both academically and non-academically,” he wrote the Observer in an email Tuesday.

Wiegman said while virtual learning is a new experience for everyone, he hopes students, families and his colleagues will embrace this as an opportunity to learn and grow.

“As a lifelong learner myself, I’m excited about this journey because I know that great learning experiences will result and we will see positive growth as a school community,” he said.

Finding a routine

Brooklyn Elementary School first-grade teacher Meghan Mapes said for younger students, most of the connecting is through their parents, and creating videos for them to read “and to reassure my students that I am still here for them.”

“It’s important to remember that our main goal for students is to sustain their learning from this school year,” she told the Observer in an email. “We want to keep the love of learning alive for our students and that can come in many different forms.”

For families starting this new journey, Mapes’ advice is to start slow and try to create a learning routine that works for your family at home.

“Know that OSD teachers and staff are here for you to answer your questions and to cheer you on — we are all in this together!” she wrote.

And while teachers aren’t physically around for a while, Stoller said parents can play an important role in their child’s education as virtual learning is likely to finish out the school year.

“Especially now, their involvement in their student’s learning is critical,” she said. “Our hope is that adults at home are engaged at least somewhat with their students and their learning.”

Email Unified Newspaper Group reporter Scott De Laruelle at scott.delaruelle@wcinet.com.