Editor’s Note: This is one story in a series that sheds light on the local impact of the novel coronavirus and related shutdowns on Northland schools. Previous coverage included impacts on education and students.

CLAY COUNTY — Teachers and paraprofessionals throughout the Northland agree one of the greatest hurdles working from home is not being in physical proximity to students.

The struggle

“Not being face-to-face makes it harder,” Kearney School District paraprofessional Mary Moore said. “It is hard to get the students to log on and do the work.”

As a paraprofessional, Moore said her job typically puts her in a classroom helping teachers with student learning, often focusing on students with special needs.

“Having physical contact makes it easier to give students feedback,” Discovery Middle School Project Lead the Way computer science teacher Eric Langhorst added. “There is a lot of emailing and typing. Feedback just takes more time (from home). The advantage to that is, (as teachers are home) students are getting more feedback.”

Langhorst said teachers also may be trying too hard.

“We’ve really had to talk to our instructional staff about not doing too much,” Kearney School District Superintendent Bill Nicely said, “making sure they have time for their own families so that they aren’t trying all day and all night to connect with kids.”

Time management can be tricky for some educators, Langhorst said.

“It depends on what teachers are going to do and how,” he added. “Some teachers are taking this opportunity to try new things, that may take more time than trying to do things the way you would in the classroom.”

Other changes

Smithville School District Superintendent Todd Schuetz said district employees, as with other Northland districts, have taken on different roles and responsibilities since schools are closed during the pandemic.

“Their job functions have varied quite widely,” Nicely added with a laugh. “We have some of our paraprofessionals on the buses to help deliver meals. Some are making copies of (learning packets). Dave Schwarzenbach, he’s our Activities Sports Director, has overseen the food preparation and delivery in that whole process, and he is doing a great job. Everyone’s jobs have changed quite a bit, but it’s working. Our custodial and maintenance people are doing a bang-up job and are really working to keep our schools disinfected so that all of our employees who are in-house working are safe.”

Moore helps deliver meals for KSD. She and other paraprofessionals reached out to ask how they could help with students or the district.

Now they jump on a bus in rotation, each having its own route, to deliver meals and learning materials to students in Kearney and Holt.

“I’m so glad they let us help,” Moore said. “I get to see the kids. I was talking to a mother the other day and asked if her son could poke his head out the door so I could see him. We miss our kids.

Recovery

Now that the school year approaches its end, Liberty Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Tucker said administration is working on how to best navigate reopening and transitioning staff back into traditional roles for the coming school year.

While most employees remain working, although doing new things, Schuetz said some vacated positions will remain vacant in an effort to prepare for future financial impacts related to COVID-19.

“We plan not to replace an assistant principal position at the middle school and Eagle Heights (Elementary School),” Schuetz said. “They will share assistants from Horizon and Maple (elementary schools), respectively.”

Moore said though there have been some drawbacks to educating students remotely, one positive she hopes will continue is the level of communication between district staff, teachers and parents.

“I’m blown away at the support and encouragement our families are providing our staff,” Schuetz said, “and I am grateful for the role parents are playing in the home.”

Northwest Editor Sean Roberts can be reached at sean.roberts@mycouriertribune.com or 389-6606.

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