In South Vermillion School Corp., schools have been closed because of COVID-19 — and now spring break — but teachers have been staying in touch with students and honing their skills as they prepare for a new era of eLearning.

Starting this week and throughout April, the district will have eLearning days Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; all students have school-provided iPads. There will be no eLearning Mondays and Fridays.  

“We’ve got three groups we want to make sure don’t get overloaded or stressed out — students, parents and teachers,” said Dave Chapman, superintendent. “They have enough stress in their lives now.”

The district is aware that some of its older students are taking care of younger siblings while mom and dad are at work. “That’s why we want to ease up a little. We don’t want to put too much of a burden on them,” he said.

While schools have been closed and out for spring break, many teachers have continued to stay in touch with their students and are preparing for much more eLearning than they’ve done before; typically, it has been used when school closes due to bad weather.

Teachers have found creative ways to connect with students, said Melanie Beaver, the district’s director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

On March 20, Stacey Hamrick, a kindergarten teacher at Ernie Pyle Elementary, videotaped a math lesson from her family’s farm in New Goshen; she and her dad went to the chicken coop, and the lesson focused on counting how many eggs the chickens had laid.

She posted it to Canvas, the district’s learning management system, where students could get on the website and watch; it included a worksheet for them. “I thought it would be fun for them to see something real world,” she said. 

She also posted it on the classroom Facebook page. 

Another day, Hamrick and her dad went to a meat locker and conducted a math lesson by videotaping how much they purchased, and she had her students add up the pounds of meat purchased. Her dad bought 10 pounds, and she bought five [the grocery store was out of meat].

She also has used Zoom, a video conferencing platform, to connect with her students, and they can see and talk to each other. While school’s been out, she’s been reading to them twice a day during the week, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

One night, she read the book Knuffle Bunny, in which a child loses her favorite stuffed animal. After she finished reading, Hamrick told her students to run and get their favorite stuffed animal; it was giggly chaos, not too much different than her actual classroom. The children quickly returned and introduced their stuffed animals.

In another example of teachers staying connected to students, Beaver recently took part in a progressive storytelling Zoom session with two middle school teachers, Jeff and Maria Sellers, and their students. “We each took turns adding to the story prompt the teachers presented. It was so cool, so much fun and so important to have this human connection,” Beaver said.

Meanwhile, Tiffani Rigsby-Silotto, Central Elementary kindergarten teacher, started a Facebook group called “Mrs. Silotto’s Reading Nook,” where she collects read-aloud videos from teachers for her students to enjoy. 

Her original goal “was for my students to see my face, hear my voice and bring a smile,” she said. She’s hoping to “spread some happiness” in difficult times.

Teachers are preparing for the return to school using much more eLearning next week. “It’s not ideal, but I want to make the most of it,” Silotto said.

Families will get assignments and lessons through Canvas, but she’ll also use Zoom a few times a week, which will enable her to see and talk to her students and get feedback.

For kindergarteners, parents will have to be more involved in their education. Silotto has an instructional video for parents to help them navigate Canvas.

“I want to be back in class, but at this time, we have to do what we have to do and make the best of it,” Silotto said. “I miss all of those kids so much.”

According to Beaver, “The most important thing we want for our students, their families, our teachers and staff is emotional and physical wellness during this challenging time. That remains our first priority.”

Teachers know their students and their students’ needs, she said.

“We trust them to guide their students during this COVID-19 closure as they continue teaching and learning in creative, flexible, and low-stress ways,” Beaver said. “We are finding our way through this together, as a district, as a state, and as a nation. For sure, we will be stronger, and wiser, once we are on the other side.” 

South Vermillion High School English teacher Jacque Cole said her plan once eLearning resumes “is to make things as flexible and full of grace as possible.” She teaches seniors and one section of juniors, and recognizes that many of her students will be assisting younger siblings with their eLearning while parents work.

Some of her students are employed in the health field and as CNAs. “They are considered essential employees and they are still working. It’s kind of scary,” Cole said. Vermillion County announced its first COVID-19 case Friday. 

Another challenge some of her students may face is a lack of good internet connections.

Cole plans to have two sessions per day, morning and afternoon. She’ll use Zoom and Nearpod, a tool that allows teachers to create presentations that include quizzes and other interactive features. 

She has been using Zoom to touch base with her students “and see how they are handling things. A lot of them have had this time, their senior year, taken away from them,” she said. “They are upset and rightfully so ... We talk about ways we can be positive.”

If students don’t have a strong internet connection, they can use an audio only option on Zoom.

There are many online education tools, “so many it’s absolutely overwhelming,” Cole said. Most companies that provide online learning tools and typically charge for premium services “are giving those for free at this point. I’m still sticking with ones I’ve always used. Right now, students don’t need another new thing thrown at them.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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