EAST HELENA — East Helena Teachers were hard at work Monday getting their classrooms and distance learning programs ready for the start of school on Aug. 26.
The 2020-2021 school year will be unique, with educators facing new and evolving challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet even with the hurdles teachers MTN News spoke with say they are excited to get back into their classrooms and can’t wait to see their students, be it through a computer or in person.
“I’m just relieved to be back here,” said Mara Fitzgerald, Eastgate Elementary Kindergarten teacher. “I’m excited that I will still have some in-person kids in my classroom as well as the distance learners. You really feed off the energy of your students, and it will be great to have them while I’m also engaging those learning at home.”
There will be four children learning in-person at the beginning of the school year in Fitzgerald’s class, with the remaining 12 learning from home.
Fitzgerald worked with a group of other teachers to develop the distance learning curriculum and strategy. The distance learners will have three distance sessions a day through Google Classroom. During each session, the student will be able to interact with the teacher and other students.
The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated just about every social aspect of American’s lives right now but kids often need some form of social interaction in order to learn.
“Developmentally at this age, a lot of learning happens through play and social interaction with their peers. It’s pretty important that they have those interactions to learn,” said Eastgate Kinder Cubs Teacher Kate Johnson.
Johnson echoed Fitzgerald’s sentiments, saying she was so incredibly happy to be back at school. “I look forward to being able to do the things that I love to do and to be at work and be around kids again, I’m very excited."
The East Helena School District has divided the students into groups in order to help them limit potential COVID-19 exposure, with rigorous cleaning being done at each facility. The division also allows for more socialization within the smaller groups, although not anywhere to the extent as they would have pre-pandemic.
Educators are strongly recommending parents to have regular communication with their teacher to discuss how their child is doing, and any issue that may be present.
“Parent participation is key any year,” Fitzgerald said. “Especially this year we need to make sure those communication lines are open and stay fluid as this could change any day or any minute as we’ve seen in the past six months.”
Both Fitzgerald and Johnson ask that parents be patient and do their best to work with their child’s teacher. The pandemic is new to everyone and teachers are trying their best to adapt for the betterment of the children.
“We’ve always been very lucky in East Helena to have such amazing support for our community,” Fitzgerald said. “We hope it continues and want to thank everyone for their support and help along this journey.”