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Teachers better prepared for distance learning if needed

The last months of the 2019-2020 school year went very differently than expected when schools were forced to close due to COVID-19 and classrooms switched to a remote format.

With the end of summer break fast approaching, the format for the coming school year’s classrooms has yet to be decided.

Tara Poolson, an instructional technologist for the Pearl River County School District, said when schools closed, students were able to continue learning through online exercises or paper based packets. Poolson said many of the students were already familiar with Google Classroom, and students were able to check out Google Chromebooks to use at home.

“When you change the way teachers teach and students are learning, you have to stretch,” Poolson said.

Poolson said that despite the challenges, the teachers adapted well to the changes.

“They picked up the ball and went with it,” Poolson said.

She said one of the biggest challenges for teachers was not being able to see their students face to face.

“It’s really tough,” Poolson said.

The workaround that was adopted for students without access to the Internet was paper packets. Poolson said the packets contained the same activities that other students were doing online.

The Pearl River County School District is preparing for the possibility of continuing remote learning at least to some extent into the upcoming school year by offering specialized training for teachers all summer. Poolson said there are courses available for teachers almost every day.

“We will be a lot better prepared,” Poolson said.

Despite the coming changes, Poolson said she feels confident that the students and teachers will adapt well and the quality of the students’ education will not be impacted.

Alicia Verweij is a gifted education teacher at West Side Elementary School in the Picayune School District.

Verweij said West Side is already somewhat of a digital-based school so the changes that remote learning brought were not too shocking.

“Every class already had Google Classroom,” Verweij said.

She said teachers were easily able to assign schoolwork through digital programs that were already in place and students and teachers were already familiar with.

Verweij said switching to a remote learning format altered but did not hinder the learning process. She said the biggest hurdle was students without access to internet at home.

Verweij said there were only about 22 to 23 students without access to internet at home at the entire school, and these students had packets mailed to their homes so they could continue their school work.

“All of our teachers went through Google level one certification,” Verweij said.

The certification involves training that familiarizes the teachers with the Google Suite platform.

“It makes us more prepared moving forward,” Verweij said.

She said one of the most difficult challenges for teachers has been not being able to provide an in-person nurturing support to students. She said it is emotional as much as it is academic.

“We miss our students terribly,” Verweij said. “We hope they know how much they are missed.”

Angela Smith teaches second grade for the Poplarville School District. She described the remote learning at the end of the last school year as a “practice run” of what’s to come.

“We know what to do if we have to do it again,” Smith said. “Our district has a lot of good things in place.”

Smith said everyone made decisions as a team at the school. She said there was great support from the district.

“I was in touch with each one of my students,” Smith said.

Smith said she is hopeful that the students will be able to return to the classrooms in the fall.

“Our Poplarville District is confident and motivated,” Smith said.

Smith said the main challenge of teaching remotely is not being able to look to students for cues.

Despite the potential challenges, Smith remains optimistic.

“I would like to say thanks to the district,” Smith said. “They have been so helpful and organized.”