Drew Shermeta, a social studies teacher at Muncie Central High School (MCHS), said he is impressed the seniors have found time to balance work and school.
“I’m proud of our kids,” Shermeta said. “I know that this is difficult, especially for the seniors that I work with. This is an incredibly difficult time for a number of reasons.”.
Ever since the closure of Indiana schools for the remainder of the semester due to COVID-19 concerns, MCHS teachers have been using Schoology, an online learning management system, to continue giving instruction to students, Shermeta said.
“My very first thought was, ‘Yeah, we could do this.’ I would say that [the] very first thought, though, didn't really grasp [what] doing this for multiple months would really mean,” he said. “You can't really appreciate the size and scope of it when it's first coming down the pike.”
Going into online learning, he said, he felt optimistic because MCHS had mostly gone “virtually paperless” already, and there was some experimentation with online learning at the high school.
Shermeta said he starts his day at 11 a.m., preparing classes and lectures for the day until noon. Then, he participates in an hour-long video call with his advanced placement students where they do practice questions and discuss them.
After grading papers for around an hour, he has another optional conference call at 2 p.m. with his standard placement students. From 2:30 p.m. until he goes to bed, Shermeta said, he sends messages to students intermittently throughout the day, grades assignments and prepares for the next day.
Kristofer Scholtes, mathematics teacher and math department chair at MCHS, said he had seen the writing on the wall ahead of time and was able to prepare for the transition.
Scholtes said he made sure to bring his overhead camera home with him from work so he could continue to work with his students.
“Lucky for me I've, I have a lot of students that are well equipped to be individual learners and have the technology they need to access the material,” he said. “so those students that have taken advantage of the situation.”
It’s fortunate that his house has a “really big yard,” Scholtes said, so that his children can go out and play should he and his wife need the house to get work done.
“We have to make sure that we let our children know that, you know, Mommy and Daddy are still working and so we want to make sure that they don't get into the video for our students as [we’re] trying to make those connections with [our] students,” he said.
It’s been interesting having Zoom calls at home because his children use Zoom as well, Scholtes said, and they have become “experts.”
“They’ve become Zoom experts. They want to join every zoom call that they see you because they don't know the separation between work and their school and their friends. They want to be in every single call,” he said.
Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, superintendent of Muncie Community Schools, said teachers like Shermeta have already been using a “blended” approach — meaning they did both in-person work and online work prior to in-person classes being canceled.
Kwiatkowski said while the blended approach did help make the transition easier for students from grades six to 12, there are some students that don’t have access to the internet.
“That is a hardship for those students. There have been companies like Comcast [that] came out, [and] they're offering free internet for up to 60 days,” she said.
Internet access is also available at each MCS school site, Kwiatkowski said.
“We've made sure that in the parking lot, you could be in a car … and have access to our technology,” she said.
Christopher Walker, principal of MCHS, said the way staff and faculty have moved to online learning has been “nothing short of phenomenal.”
Teachers are having more in-depth conversations with their students over class content than they did when they were in the classrooms, Walker said.
“As weird as it may sound, there's a level of comfort in some of our students being able to communicate with their teachers, knowing that [the] communication is between the teacher and the student, as opposed to maybe raising my hand and asking a question in front of my classmates,” he said.
However, MCHS will not consider moving to a more online-learning platform once in-person learning is back in session, Walker said.
With students struggling to get reliable internet access and learning not being the same as it was in the classroom, he said there are still some “logistical barriers” before the school would move to an online platform permanently.
“Obviously, we can tweak where we feel like improvements can be made if we were to stay with an online platform for longer than the remainder of this whole year,” Walker said. “But, in a perfect world, I'd like to wave a magic wand and [have] everyone just come back because we miss them. We miss them a lot.”
Contact Charles Melton with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Cmelton144.