Lisa Moreno, Grant Elementary’s guidance counselor, said she couldn’t help but cry when she found out students wouldn’t be coming back to school for the rest of the year.
“My family doesn’t understand because I’m just bawling all the time. I keep saying, ‘You guys don’t understand, I’m so worried about my kids,’ ” Moreno said. “I know the kids that are in the greatest need or might not be in great home situations, and the school is the most stable place for them.”
Moreno and several other Grant Elementary staff members were outside the building Wednesday to distribute paper lessons to parents as the first day of remote learning began at Norfolk Public Schools.
Several children waved excitedly from their parents’ cars as they saw their teachers standing outside — probably for the last time this school year.
Homemade signs lined Grant Elementary’s front lawn, such as “First Day of Homeschool,” “Keep Calm, Stay Strong” and “We Miss You.”
All NPS parents and students were able to pick up paper lessons or Chromebooks at each school building Wednesday to start remote learning. Additional pick-ups for more lessons will be publicized in the future.
Superintendent Jami Jo Thompson announced on Monday that the district is closing its buildings for the rest of the year following health department recommendations. All students will complete learning at home for the rest of the school year.
The district’s remote learning system includes educational work focused on enrichment and growth, but there are no official deadlines and students aren’t graded, said Beth Nelson, director of teaching and learning.
It’s hard to know if students will fall behind, she said.
“I think it will be very different in different grade levels. I would say there is a higher concern for young kids that are learning their foundational skills,” Nelson said. “We’re trying to provide things, but in no means do we expect parents to all of a sudden know how to be a teacher.”
Teachers will have to focus on transitioning students from what they learned before school buildings closed to what they need to learn in their next grade, she said. The district might have to combine education from the fourth quarter of 2019-20 into the first quarter of 2020-21.
Parents who have questions specifically about their students at Norfolk Senior High School can expect more answers next week. NPS is planning on releasing more information about second-semester grades.
District staff and teachers also are making students who are struggling or missing credits a priority, Nelson said.
A challenge students could face, especially in younger grades, is learning in their home environment.
“Students are also at the mercy of whoever their care provider is,” Nelson said. “Every family will handle this differently. I think we have to keep the care of the family in mind first and understand that the dynamics at home are changing. ... Mom and dad have this new responsibility where kids are at home, but maybe they still need to go to work. There’s a large number of challenges for our families.”
Paper lessons are available to address the concern of internet access. All students after the fifth grade have the opportunity to use a Chromebook.
About 93% of NPS students have internet access, while 87% have a device they can use, according to a January 2018 district survey. But 54% of NPS students have to share their device with another family member.
If students or parents have questions about an assignment, they can email or call their teacher.
Moreno said she can’t email students directly without having a prior email relationship with them, but she can still reply if they reach out to her.
In addition to remote learning, state testing and the local ACT tests have been canceled this year, Nelson said. The Nebraska Department of Education is working on other ways to administer the ACT to students who need to take it.
Most teachers are also still coming to work at their respective buildings to prepare more remote learning instruction, but they are allowed to work from home if they need to.
“(The teachers) are stressed and sad,” Nelson said. “Teachers are so loyal and committed to their students, and this pretty much pulls the rug out from under them. They have to think differently about how this is going to work. There’s a whole mourning process people have to go through.”
Connie Rader, a special education paraprofessional for Grant Elementary, greeted students from afar Wednesday for the first time since spring break was extended on March 16. She held a sign that read “We Miss Your Smile” and “Stay Pawsitive.”
“It’s really sad,” Rader said. “The worst part is that my fourth-graders will be moving to the middle school next year. We couldn’t say goodbye.”