Distance learning starts in Ely

Closed until May, school using technology to deliver education

by Tom Coombe
Classrooms and hallways will be empty, but education in Ely will go on in unprecedented fashion.
Starting Monday, students in the Ely district will join thousands of their counterparts across Minnesota in “distance learning,” an initiative prompted by the coronavirus pandemic and on course to last at least through May 4.
For the last week-and-a-half, Ely teachers in both the Memorial (grades 6-12) and Washington (K-5) buildings have brainstormed and improvised, fast-tracking a curriculum conversion in an effort to continue to deliver education in an unconventional manner.
Instead of sitting in their classrooms, students will log on to the internet each day - using everything from email to Google Classroom and even YouTube to gather lessons and complete coursework.
“It’s going to look different in both buildings because you have that difference in age between high school and the elementary,” said high school principal Megan Anderson.
Anderson described how middle and high school students might go about their day, which according to state guidelines is to include daily interaction with their licensed teachers.
“What we’re looking at is that our kids will be able to hop on the internet and receive some information from their teacher,” said Anderson.
To aid in that effort, the school district is loaning laptops and iPads to students who need them, and Anderson added “we’re hoping to get some of the pucks for internet, that AT&T and Verizon both have, and those connect automatically with the device.”
“All of our students will be using the Google Classroom format, which most students are familiar with already as it’s something they’ve used in at least a couple of their classes thus far.”
A few high school teachers are using other means, including internet video site YouTube, with Max Gantt, Bo DeRemee and Jim Lah among those who have set up their own YouTube channels.
“I think that’s pretty exciting,” said Anderson. “We have several staff with YouTube channels and (band teacher) Sarah Mason is doing some fun and innovative things with technology resources.”
In addition to lessons and assignments, it’s possible for students to complete tests in the new educational model.
“There may be tests,” said Anderson. “What tests will look like through the Google Classroom format, they may be project based, or a student can go through and submit a test and the teacher will grade it and send it back either through email or Google Classroom itself.”
The school has also made provisions for students who can’t log on to the internet, setting up a table in the bottom floor of the Memorial Building to pick up and return materials.
Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Tim Walz extended a school closure that started March 18 and indicated all schools in the state will be closed until at least May 4.
The closure has already forced the postponement of the annual senior class trip to Washington, D.C., while the high school prom - slated for April 18 - will also be delayed.
All school sports and activities remain on hold while other events have also been postponed or cancelled.
It’s made for a rough start to the spring for Ely’s students and staff and particularly the high school seniors, according to Anderson.
“That’s one of the things that hits me the most, is how are we going to provide an experience for those seniors,” said Anderson. “There’s prom and awards day and the things you get to do just once.”
Anderson said there has been talk of moving the prom to a later date, and high school graduation ceremonies are still on as scheduled, although school officials have talked of other ways of recognizing the seniors should events also wind up forcing commencement to be postponed.
“We talked to the kids before we left, and maybe prom happens in June,” said Anderson. “Maybe graduation is OK in July or maybe we have the ceremony we have always done.”
The next several weeks will determine how, or if, the school proceeds with activities that bring together crowds of people.
For now, however, the attention has been turned to the primary task of the district - providing education for its approximately 560 students.
“Actually I am really excited about that,” said Anderson. “I am really proud of the way my teachers have stepped up. They have jumped way out of their comfort zones to get this done.”