By Eric Erickson
The steady stream of school buses in and out of Como Park High School might lead some to think this academic year is business as usual.
But with students attending classes from home on their iPad screens, the buses only carry food—boxes and boxes of healthy meals transported to families across the St. Paul Public Schools district.
Como High is the staging area for the food distribution program. With SPPS reporting a total of more than over 8 million meals delivered since the pandemic began, Governor Tim Walz stopped by in early September to see the operation.
Walz praised the Nutrition Services staff, helped load a bus and thanked all the drivers and support staff who provide the door-to-door delivery.
As for academic instruction, student and staff opinions on distance learning are generally positive given the circumstances.
“Overall, I think the school and district have a much better understanding of the ins and outs of distance learning than they did last school year,” said senior Keith Deal. “This has led to a much less confusing and more smooth transition back into school than we had last spring.”
Como staff developed a schedule for instruction that is focused on students with consistent times for class meetings (via Google Meets) set between 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Teachers all hold virtual office hours from 2 to 3 p.m. on the Google Meet platform.
Students have time for independent work every morning, and of course, other times of their choosing.
“I love the format of the schedule,” said senior Ava Vitali. “It gives students the ease of doing their work asynchronously and time to wake up and be attentive in the Google Meets.”
Teachers say class preparation is challenging because of the need to have all resources, content and scaffolded materials fully accessible online for any students who weren’t able to attend a virtual class due to technology glitches, health or family responsibilities.
“The technology learning curve continues to be my biggest challenge,” said ELL teacher Suzanne Susens. “I tried Nearpod and Jamboard this week. But getting functioning links out to students through Schoology continues to be a problem! I have to keep reminding myself of what we always tell the students—if at first you don’t succeed. . . .”
English teacher Chong Thao noted that distance learning has forced everyone to be very creative and intentional, but also expressed what’s missing.
“Seeing students and interacting with them is the best part of teaching,” Thao said. “Teaching through the screen can be impersonable and the magic is harder to come by.”
Senior Harrison Kerr shared similar thoughts. “It’s challenging to not have the real human connection between everyone in the classroom, as that brings out the sense of community. The virtual meetings do help, but there is still a void with the digital interface.”
Given that reality, why are we doing it?
Perhaps senior Emilie Hanson reminded us best. “Distance learning is preventing the spread of COVID-19!”
Eric Erickson is a social studies teacher at Como Senior High School.