In a few short weeks teachers and administrators in the Kearney area have taken their in-person lesson plans and adapted them so students may learn online during the coronavirus pandemic.

Since March 23 students at Ravenna, Shelton and Elm Creek public schools have had distance learning, while students in Holdrege and Wilcox-Hildreth will begin Monday.

Shelton staff and administration started planning for COVID-19 around the first of the month as soon as Superintendent Brian Gegg heard the chances were good there would be an outbreak. Gegg worked as superintendent at Weeping Water 10 years ago and had taken state training during the H1N1 bird flu epidemic.

“Luckily, we (Shelton) had a pretty good plan in place before we had to shut down,” he said. “Our staff here came up with some pretty good ideas on how we were going to do things.”

Many elementary students, junior high and high school students in the area have school-provided laptop computers and an online account where they receive lectures, instructional videos and assignments. In all three school districts, younger elementary students have received paper-learning packets from the schools.

Their education will be supplemented with some technology if students have access to it.

Ravenna will be transitioning their elementary students to e-learning and providing devices to any K-6 student who needs one, said Superintendent Ken Schroeder.

Like Wilcox-Hildreth, Ravenna started remote learning by providing students with enrichment activities they could complete with little to no assistance from a teacher. The goal was to help ease them and their parents into the online style of education, and give teachers time to plan the new style of content, Schroeder said.

Gegg said with the exception of some minor issues — students misplacing charging cords, unable to log on to their accounts or the online platform temporarily going down — online learning has been OK at all three schools. Although not having students in a classroom is a major drawback.

“The biggest change for the staff was to videotape lectures and put them in Schoology (online learning program),” he said. “Also using the videoconferencing tool with the students was something we hadn’t utilized in the past, but both the staff and students have done a great job with it.”

Administrators in the three school districts say they’ve spent hours developing learning activities for their special-needs students.

Next week may be the biggest challenge for Ron and Jackie Trampe of rural Elm Creek who have been social distancing with their six kids for two weeks. The kids, ranging in age from 10 to 19, will start their online learning as Jackie continues to work at home as a developmental disabilities service coordinator for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services at Lexington.

Ron works at Titan Machinery in Kearney.

The first week was a “challenge” with the Trampe kids — Jaiden, 10, Garrett, 14, Gabe, 16, Jordyn, 17, and Keaton, 19 — at home and rainy, cold weather having them cooped up inside, Jackie said.

“There was a lot of fighting. Just trying to keep them occupied.”

Last weekend the family spent much of their time playing games, which included their older son Hunter, 22, who lives nearby, and two young children. A combination of nicer weather, so the kids can go outside and play, and school work has helped to pass the time this week.

Jackie tries to make sure all her kids sit down at the dining room table to do their school work or an activity, but that doesn’t always happen.

“The biggest thing is getting them, off their stupid phones and their game systems, to do anything,” said Jackie.

Road trips to Kearney for groceries and other errands also have helped. Next week the younger Trampes, who all go to school at Elm Creek, and Keaton, who is a freshman at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, will start their online learning.

“I’m hoping we can get into a routine. With maybe some more structured learning we can get into a better routine,” Jackie said.

She feels the school district and teachers are doing the best they can given the situation. “I know they have their own families and lives that they’re trying to take care of, too.”

One of the first priorities for all schools in the area was ensuring students still were getting meals during the week.

Wilcox-Hildreth Superintendent Justin Patterson said, “We focused on basic needs of our students first and education second. One of those basic needs was food.”

More than 80 kids are receiving meals each day at Wilcox-Hildreth.

Holdrege hit a record by handing out 185 meals to students at breakfast and lunch, and Ravenna has provided 225 breakfasts and lunches each day with that number growing.

Ravenna and Wilcox-Hildreth bus drivers are delivering meals to students, while Elm Creek staff has been serving grab-and-go lunches, Elm Creek Superintendent Tom Reeser said.

Shelton provides hot lunches to students three days a week and bagged lunches two days. Parents call in and order lunches for the week and are picked up by families.

The schools will continue to provide meals for students for as long as possible.

Prom has been postponed or, maybe, even canceled in Elm Creek, and graduation is on hold for most school districts. However, administrators are adamant that ceremonies will be held, even if it is during the summer, once the social distancing recommendation is lifted.

“We have had lots of discussion. There are just so many variables. If we get even one community-spread case within our education service unit area, we are even further handcuffed with the amount of people we can have in one group,” said Holdrege Superintendent Todd Hilyard. “We will keep planning and see what happens when we get closer.”

Ravenna has generated a number of possible options from a traditional ceremony after being given the “all clear” by Two Rivers Public Health Department to an online, virtual graduation ceremony. The school is asking seniors and their parents for ideas and preferences for graduation.

“We have every intention to hold graduation as per usual provided the health concerns are eased sufficiently for us to do so,” Reeser said.

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