The first week of distance learning in Cloquet is nearly complete, and despite a few bumps in the road, things are rolling on, educators and parents said.
Cloquet High School teacher Chris Swanson said there have been a few glitches with distance learning, but he is happy with how many students are reaching out to ask questions. Swanson teaches Light at the end of the Tunnel (LET), American History and American Government.
Students email, call or text their teachers. Swanson uses a mix of mediums to reach his students, including a civil rights podcast. He tries to make assignments reflect current events, while still meeting standards. He said he may do some type of livestream for class in the future, but said he will wait to see how things progress.
Students reported a range of experiences, from no issues to problems with Schoology, a learning management system, and internet connection issues. Swanson said he has 10 students who don't have home internet.
The change of scenery is also an adjustment. Swanson said he misses teaching his students in the classroom.
"I called every one of my homeroom students on the first day," he said.
Karin Sabyan is a parent of a ninth-grader, as well as a pre-kindergarten teacher at Queen of Peace Catholic School.
She said her son was frustrated on the first day, which is to be expected.
"He thinks it was tricky to navigate because all of the teachers have their 'classrooms' set up differently, " Sabyan said. "Some teachers had instructions, some had videos and some did not."
Sabyan said everything is going well for her in the first few days of distance teaching. She recommended parents, students and teachers stay in touch and talk about what is working and what isn't.
"We know we are not going to get it perfect in the first few days, or even maybe weeks, but together we can make it manageable," she said.
Parent Heather Colemer said she felt overwhelmed to start, but hopes her daughters can get into a rhythm. Her daughters are elementary school and in middle school.
"The homework load this week — there was no easing into this process," Colemer said. "We need to find a routine."
At the Monday, March 30 school board meeting, Superintendent Michael Cary said he is impressed with how fast educators were able to pull everything together. Cloquet School District teachers and staff had three days to figure out how to navigate distance learning for students due to spring break the following week.
Cary said many employees came in during the break to ensure everything was ready for the first day.
“I have been absolutely thoroughly impressed with every single group of our employees in terms of the level of work that has been put into making this happen,” Cary said.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic caused Gov. Tim Walz to close schools, Cloquet educators were already working to implement Schoology to make up for the district's with extra snow days, Cary said. Although it was not quite ready, the basics were in place and helped the district move forward quickly.
About 165 families did not have broadband internet at home, according to the results of a district survey. Cary said he ordered 170 AT&T iPhone 7s smartphones for students to use as WiFi hotspots. The other phone capabilities were disabled, so students could only use the phones to get online. The phones will arrive at the end of this week and cost the district about $17,000, Cary said.
Cary made the purchase without bringing the idea to the board first because the phones were selling out and he had to decide quickly, he said. Once the phones come in, families who qualify will be notified.
The rest of information families need for distance learning is posted to the school district website: isd94.org.