WEST FARGO — Teachers at Aurora Elementary School visited students and their families on Thursday, May 28, marking the end of a school year marked by distance learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Melissa Engelhart, a second grade teacher, wanted the year to have the ending it deserved.
"Everything seemed really unfinished and so my team and I had talked and thought that it would be nice to visit them at their homes," Engelhart said.
The teachers dropped off treats for their students, making sure to follow social distancing precautions. Engelhart rang doorbells, dropped off treats and stepped back to maintain the recommended 6-foot separation between her and the families.
"We were able to keep some distance between us and give each other air hugs or an air high-five," she said.
Since schools in North Dakota halted in-person learning in mid-March, Engelhart has produced two lessons per day for her class and has kept in touch using Microsoft Teams. While technology kept schoolwork on track, it couldn't replace face-to-face interactions.
"It’s a nice way for us to wrap up the year and be able to see each other one more time," she commented. "There were happy tears and sad tears."
While a new crop of students enter the classroom every year, the bonds formed with local families, especially those with multiple children, are strong. Engelhart contacted the parents of students in her class to ensure they would be comfortable with her visiting. While some are still isolating, she said others were receptive to the idea.
"Sometimes we get to know families really well, especially if they have more than one child," she said. "Making those connections is really important and special."
Engelhart noted that she is not the only teacher who has met students at home to mark the end of the school year. Many other teachers at Aurora Elementary as well as other area schools have done the same.
Moving instruction online presented a learning curve for both teachers and parents, challenging the two to find ways to keep students engaged. The students, however, have been the fastest to adapt to the change, Engelhart said.
“Kids are just so resilient. They have so much experience with technology just because of the way life is now,” she said. “That was probably the easy part. The most challenging part was that they were having to learn alongside their parents and their parents might say or do something differently than their teachers.”
Engelhart has taught for 24 years, spending a decade in Grand Forks before moving to West Fargo, but an international health crisis is a new situation for her. “As we all know this year was definitely different,” she remarked. “I was teaching during the 1997 flood, which was also a unique experience. This one is a bit different.”