SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. (WMTV) – Growing mentally, physically, and emotionally. The middle school years can be tough as kids start to explore who they are. This year, COVID-19 is making that journey a little more complicated as the virus is keeping them socially isolated and learning from home. In the Sun Prairie School District, middle school teachers are finding it’s not so much what they teach, but how they teach as they move to an all virtual learning model this fall.
For the last two decades, Doug Maughan has taught in the district. He teaches science and social studies at Patrick Marsh Middle School. This year, he said is unlike any other.
“It’s quiet,” said Maughan. “The parking lot is empty. The school buses aren’t showing up. It’s definitely eerie.”
He quickly found that his years of lesson planning didn’t translate into this new era of COVID. He quickly looked for tools that could help him connect with his students.
Right away when he returned to the classroom to start planning for the fall semester, he requested a web camera. He said he was thankful that the district already had them ready to go to hand out to teachers who wanted them. After the first week of school, he found that he needed something else in order to reach his students. He then requested an extra-long USB extension cord for the camera so he’s able to move around his room and perform science experiments. While teachers are relying heavily on technology, Maughan has also found that the white board wheels that used to sit at the back of his classroom is now getting a lot more use as he tries to make his classes engaging.
“For a lot of kids, this is the best part of their day,” said Maughan. “This is where they get their meals, this is where they see their friends, especially for middle school to have their social life just literally end was really difficult for a lot of kids.”
He saw the stress and anxiety build with kids last spring as they were talking about COVID-19 in his U.S. History and Current Events class.
“This is a defining moment in your life and in our country’s history,” he said. “Pay attention. Stay calm. Relaxed. And it’s all going to be fine, but at the end of the day – much like 9/11 or JFK or the Challenger explosion for my generation this is a defining moment for this generation’s history.”
When the doors abruptly closed in March 2020, Maughan knew he needed to reach out to his students. On March 18, he made his first check-in video on his home computer.
March 18: “Hey everybody! Just checking in from home. A little new for me, I’ve never had a day working from home. So, who’s all here? Well, both dogs, all three kids, my wife, and the daycare kids.” So kind of interesting day. Trying to find a quiet spot in the house to send you a little message.”
Just two days later, Maughan knew there were more questions than answer and reached out again sending a very real message about how everyone was going to navigate all of this.
March 20: “I do miss you guys. I do miss teaching. I do miss seeing you each and every day. As you know I love my job. It’s kind of different teaching from home. We’ll keep in contact the best we can. I’ll try not to yell at my own kids too much.”
It’s these virtual connections that kept students calm and offering a bit of normalcy to their lives that were just turned upside down.
“I did feel a little stressed out at first, because it was definitely a lot more technology than we were originally using,” said Lorelie Gauger.
Gaurger is one of 700 students at Patrick Marsh. While it was stressful in the beginning, this 7th grader said learning virtually isn’t all bad.
“I really like online school because there are less distractions for me,” she said. “I can sit in my room and listen to music if I want to and work on my schoolwork without having people talking in the background or moving around the classroom.”
She said there have been some technology glitches, including slow internet as her siblings and parents are also using it for school and work.
Gauger workspace is setup with a desk, her chrome book, and her corkboard – something she’s really relying on this fall semester.
“Putting my lessons on the board actually helped more than last year when I was in school when I would put post it notes in my notebook,” said Gauger. “I would still forget about it. But every morning I have setup a routine to check my corkboard and check my email, so I remember what I have to do.”
While the workspace for both students and teachers look different, Maughan said the end goal is still the same it has always been.
“At the end of the day we’re going to show up. We are going to learn. And we’re going to grow as people,” he said.
On Monday, Sept. 28, school administrators plan to update the school board on what the future of learning will look like. Patti Lux-Weber, the communication spokesperson for the district, told NBC15 that parents will be notified after that meeting so they know what the plan is moving forward – virtual, in-person, or hybrid.
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