FARGO — The night before Oak Grove schools began remote classes, Amy Holstad and her daughter, Lauren, were nervous.
“I saw the stress in Lauren’s face and eyes, and her going through something new, and as a parent you want to try and make it as smooth as possible,” Amy said.
Lauren wanted to attend her first day back to class since the COVID-19 pandemic shut schools down in her room, door closed, everything orderly. “I was definitely more stressed about the whole thing, the unknowns, and the different teachers and that times were going to collide with classes,” Lauren, a seventh grader at Oak Grove, said.
But classes went almost seamlessly, she said. Lauren even got to show her classmates her newly remodeled room in a video-chatting program the school is using to bring students and teachers together called Zoom.
“It was nice. I got to interact and see more people in Zoom, but it was also nice to be in my own area and space, feel that home vibe and not be stressed at school,” Lauren said. “The day went by a lot quicker, too, and classes were shorter.”
It may be a type of “new normal,” Amy said, at least for now.
Since the night Gov. Doug Burgum announced school closures on March 15, Oak Grove has been preparing for remote classes. The first day went without a hitch, Academic Dean Aimee Zachrison said.
“I believe this is transformative; there are pieces of this that we will keep moving forward,” Zachrison said. “I don’t see Oak Grove changing over completely to e-school, but even in this time the teachers have kept the community alive with the things they’re doing in Zoom.”
“We are moving mountains,” Oak Grove President Mike Slette said, attributing the saying to a parent. “But the whole state is rallying to do that, too.”
“It’s been a good start,” said Josh Kading, principal of Oak Grove’s elementary program. Then borrowing a phrase from renowned sailor Buddy Melges, a quote he said Burgum liked to say, “You never have to recover from a good start.”
To watch seventh grade math teacher Dave Carlson teach, everything looks simple. Students appear in small boxes in a chat room, and they’re relaxed.
“It’s a new frontier for teachers, parents and students,” said Jordan Schumacher, dean of students. “It’s also the parents and teachers who are anxious and nervous and the students who are chomping at the bit.”
The technology behind such e-classes is anything but simple, however, and instead of bells signalling the ends and beginnings of classes, students are emailed a link to follow to e-class. Truancy is still not tolerated. If a student gets sick, parents have to call in like normal, Zachrison said.
Teachers can mute students if they’re talking too much. On the first day of class, every time a new student showed up, classmates cheered.
“I think there are some pros and cons, there are lots of online tools, and the beauty of it is if they don’t catch on they can replay it,” Kading said. “The downside of it is the social aspect of it, they can see that our kids really miss that social interaction.”
The things students and faculty took for granted two weeks ago like being with friends and seeing teachers are parts of life that can’t be digitally replaced, Kading said.
Unlike larger public schools, Oak Grove didn’t have many issues ensuring students had access to computers or internet, Zachrison said.
The Fargo Public School system plans to begin remote learning Monday, March 30. Locker pick-up for essential items including personal computers and books will start this week. All other school events are postponed until further notice.
The COVID-19 pandemic won’t be delaying summer or keeping students from graduation, Zachrison said.
“Right now, we do not foresee a delay in our graduation or the students matriculating from one grade to the next,” he said. “All that being said, we have no idea how long this will last. Our teachers have built out a plan for the next two weeks with a skeleton plan until the end of the school year. ... We hope to have some soft closure at some point, and we’re hoping for the best, planning for the worst scenario.”