Coronavirus update | Pandemic can't shut down learning in area towns

While Brooke Billings is cut off in the picture, she and fellow Rantoul Township High School administrators Megan Anderson, left, and Amy Jones were making sure students aren’t cut off from learning by delivering Chromebooks last week. 

Area students may be spending more time at home, but they aren’t getting a break from their studies due to the COVID-19-induced schools shutdown. They’re still learning.  

At Rantoul City Schools, students were provided one to two weeks worth of “learning opportunities” on the Thursday before spring break, Superintendent Michelle Ramage said.

“We were anticipating a closure,” Ramage said. “So students were able to start on that” March 23, the first day “back” from spring break.

Because it was unknown how many students had internet access and devices that connect to the web, staff began gathering that information by phone call, email or any means possible, Ramage said.

“All the teachers were making phone calls (last) Monday and Tuesday to remind them, ‘You have work.’ We will be coming forward with more. They have one to two weeks of work, depending on the building.”

RCS is making devices such as Chromebooks or iPads available to students that don’t already have them. In some cases, hot spots will be made available for students without internet service.

“Knowing that information completely changes how we’re moving forward with providing information,” Ramage said. “I believe by the end of (last) week if not the beginning of (this) week, we will have some pretty solid plans for remote learning.”

She said not all the learning has to be on the internet. Other forms are also good for students such as doing projects with their hands or communicating with people in their household.

Rantoul Township High School

At Rantoul Township High School, staff “began pushing stuff out electronically at the beginning of (last) week,” Principal Todd Wilson said.

Administrators Brooke Billings, Megan Anderson and Amy Jones delivered Chromebooks to students in need of them. Close to 100 were delivered.

“Ms. Anderson spent hours organizing that information, to figure out who needed the resources,” Wilson said. Secretaries also made calls to help.

Two days before students left for class, RTHS conducted a student survey to determine who had access to the internet and a device. Five hundred of the 800 students answered the survey. The rest were determined by phone calls.

For those students without internet, a system will be used where teachers can collect homework and place it in a central location for pick up.

Wilson said the school is learning on the fly.

“The logistical muscles that have been flexed ..., it’s not something schools are used to doing,” he said. “I am humbled by the amount of work and thinking outside the box that has gone into this by everyone involved.”

He said in one day Greg Van Horn and Holly Kelly worked together to reconfigure 200 Chromebooks so they could be used outside of the school.

Wilson said one teacher told him a student has brought up his grade by two letter grades since working online.

He said Anderson has been in charge of determining the level of internet availability to students, and Jones has been helping with the Chromebook distribution while Billings has been focusing on the social-emotional aspect of the students.

He said Billings started a campaign to make sure every student gets at least one postcard from their teachers.  

“We don’t want to lose touch with our kids,” Wilson said. “I know kids are emailing teachers and we’ve had several ask, ‘When are we coming back; when can I get my work?’ One said he didn’t realize how much he enjoyed being around school staff.

 How other schools are handling learning

Principal Dave Auth said St. Malachy School in Rantoul is also “doing e-learning in order to keep instruction going as best as we can.”  

“We are using multiple technologies, such as Google Docs, Google Classroom, Teacherease, and Zoom to name a few,” Auth said. “During the e-learning days, we will be tracking attendance and connecting with students and families consistently.”

Gifford Grade School Superintendent/Principal Jay Smith said teachers provided students with a variety of learning material last week. Some students worked online; some teachers created video lessons that were embedded into the students’ Google Classroom accounts. Five families requested Chrome Books for their children. Eight learning packets were provided to those students without home internet access.

Prairieview-Ogden Superintendent Vic White said remote learning services are available.

“Teachers are communicating with their students/parents by email, texting, Dojo, Zoom, Google Documents etc.,” White said. “I strongly feel that our teachers are making every effort to keep educating our students but we miss our students and hope we get to go back to school soon.”  

Thomasboro Grade School Superintendent/Principal Bonnie McArthur said the school handed out school instructional packets Monday and Tuesday that included one week’s worth of instructional material. The process will be repeated between 3 and 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 7. That process will continue each Tuesday during remote-learning time.

Ludlow Grade School Superintendent/Principal Jeff Graham said remote learning days began Tuesday. He said teachers are trying to stay in touch with students “and have provided skills to work on.”

Fisher Superintendent Barb Thompson said students there are receiving “learning opportunities” during the shutdown.

“Teachers are communicating with and instructing students and families through a variety of ways,” Thompson said.

Potomac Grade School Principal Candace Freeman said teachers have been creating packets for students without internet access or devices. The majority, however, will learn through internet-based platforms that teachers are using.

Bill Mulvaney, superintendent of Armstrong schools, said they have been “planning on how to transition to e-learning from our traditional classroom attendance.”

Armstrong-Ellis Grade School Principal Kurt Thornsbrough said teachers “have been doing some things either online or learning tools.” Remote learning began Tuesday.

dhinton@rantoulpress.com