Lacey Miller, a Pre-K teacher, checks the temperature of her student, Camar M. Nov. 6 2020 at Parrish Elementary School in Carbondale Ill. (Kallie Cox @KallieECox)
Lacey Miller, a Pre-K teacher, checks the temperature of her student, Camar M. Nov. 6 2020 at Parrish Elementary School in Carbondale Ill.

Kallie Cox @KallieECox

Learning through the lockdown-how one school district is handling the pandemic

January 9, 2021

Students, teachers and staff members of Carbondale District #95 experienced their last normal day of school on March 6 when they left for spring break. Since then, the district moved to a remote learning plan and had to adapt, along with the rest of the world, to the challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 Since the start of the pandemic the food services staff continued feeding students within the district by partnering with Carbondale Community High School to prepare and distribute meals and ensure that all students under the age of 18 had access to food.

The district began to offer an optional, blended, model of in-person learning again the week of Oct. 22. Teachers adapted their lesson plans to teach Zoom, recorded, and in-person classes at the same time. Students learned to keep their distance from one another in the halls, air out their classrooms for 15 minutes every hour, wear their masks, clean their work spaces and wear gloves during P.E. and recess.

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On Nov. 13, the district was forced back into a fully remote learning model due to a rise in local cases of COVID-19. 

Superintendent Daniel Booth said all in all, the fall semester went pretty well and teachers and students were able to adjust to teaching and learning remotely. He said the hardest part of the pandemic, was the unpredictability of the virus.

“In the day and time we live in it went as good as it could go,” Booth said. “Everyone was ready to pivot when they needed to pivot and everyone was flexible and ready to adjust and able to adjust as needed throughout the year. So the hardest part about it was probably not being able to be as proactive as we would want to be. Not being able to plan long-term and not knowing what the virus would do at any given time.”

The district, which has approximately 1,600 students from Pre-k to 8th grade, ensured each student had a Chromebook and internet access through either Mediacom or Verizon. 

Booth said for students with disabilities they offered smaller group instruction online where the student could either be one on one with a teacher, or in a group with two or three other students and he said there were times when some students were allowed to meet with their instructors in-person to get extra help. 

(See more: Southern Illinois educators get creative to meet student needs amid COVID-19)

Jessica Murphy, a chorus and show choir teacher at Parrish Elementary School and Carbondale Middle School, adapted throughout the semester to teach online via Zoom, socially distanced outside and for a few weeks while the district offered optional in-person learning, she followed strict safety procedures to teach music and choir in the classroom.

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She said one of the biggest challenges of the semester has been trying to ensure the students are still learning and having fun. To help with this, Murphy is still working to pull off the school’s annual musical and students will be performing virtually.

“We are going to do it in kind of a Google Meets form where it will be the little squares for each of the kids,” Murphy said. “We are going to use some of our students who are a little more gifted with art who normally do our sets and props and stuff like that and they are going to get to animate different things to stick into it, so we are excited about it.”

Coach Haley Karayiannas, one of three P.E. teachers at Carbondale Middle School, said the most difficult part of remote learning has been the lack of resources some students have. 

“None of these kids have the same thing, so when they were fully remote we had to basically use their body,” Karayiannas said. “Creating a P.E. program with kids not having the same equipment was probably the biggest challenge.”

Karayiannas said they try to keep their program fun and games oriented, but this is difficult to do when the district is remote.

 “When you take equipment away and then expect them to enjoy P.E. in the same way, that’s the hardest thing,” Karayiannas said.

She said they have had constructive conversations with the students about staying fit and healthy amid the pandemic. 

“The one thing that they have learned with Coronavirus, COVID, is how important it is to be healthy and to stay away from diabetes and things like that, that have given people that are overweight, people that are not healthy have had a lot harder time with it so we have had good conversations with them about that and how being healthy is going to help them stay away from stuff like this,” Karayiannas said.

Booth said the faculty and staff have continually learned how to communicate in new ways and learn how to do remote learning well and on different platforms in order to continue teaching during the pandemic. 

“We are really trying to look at the positives and how we can get better and continue to educate in anyway possible and this pandemic has really taught us- it’s taught us two things, our teachers can adjust and they can make it happen no matter what, but it’s also taught us how important it is for us to be in-person and have kids in-person. But we can’t do that at the sake of anyone’s health and wellness,” Booth said.

Jan. 4 was the first day back from holiday break for the district and they are starting the semester off fully remote until the county’s numbers improve. 

Editor-in-Chief Kallie Cox can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @KallieECox.

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    Lynn KiddJan 12, 2021 at 6:16 am

    District 95 has been doing a wonderful job! We are very thankful to live in Carbondale and this school district now more than ever.

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