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Mercer school starts morning together online


March 28, 2020

Tom LaVenture/Daily Globe

Mercer School physical education and health teacher, Adam Miller, holds a ball as an example of what he asked students to use for the daily workout during a school-wide Thursday morning homeroom session using the remote online conferencing platform, Zoom. He then led the students along with willing teachers and parents in a "Get Up and Get Moving" workout.


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MERCER, Wis. - For students of the Mercer School District, homeroom is now literally homeroom.

Since the school shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, teachers have kept the students engaged in learning through emails, online platforms and have now added video conferencing.

This past Monday the school started a daily school-wide morning homeroom session using the remote online conferencing platform from Zoom Video Communications. The effort is to replicate the daily morning session with all 160 students in the school cafeteria.

"We start the day with announcements, celebrating birthdays and other accomplishments," said Sheri Kopka, interim administrator of Mercer School District. "It is a way to let everyone know what is happening for the day."

Teachers have kept students engaged using Google Classroom, a free paperless file sharing platform for sharing learning materials and distributing assignments. This included sessions on the Google Meet video conferencing app, but the school is also using Zoom.

The weekday morning all school Zoom sessions are held at 9 a.m. This week the sessions have had more than 100 viewers to include students, staff and parents.

Some of the webcams showed siblings watching together or with parents. It wasn't unusual to see a curious dog or cat fill the screen at times.

The announcements included well wishes for a student's grandparent who underwent hip surgery. Teachers used the opportunity to clarify assignments.

Brent Wambold, the high school math teacher, went over technical details about accounting and personal finance assignments. He had a timeless instruction for his math students.

"Please show your work," he said. "Please don't just email the answers."

Kristin Powers, the first- and second-grade teacher, asked her students to take a picture of their art assignments and email them to her.

There was high praise for the nachos that came with the home delivered school lunch program. The school delivers breakfast and lunch to any student who wants it.

The feedback from parents, students and community is positive, Kopka said.

"It's been a little challenging at the home-front for kids to bounce between two different age groups of schoolwork but for the most part I think we're getting into a pretty nice routine," said Amber Thompson, a parent of two grade school children. "I can't speak for all parents but our household is doing pretty well."

Her third-grade daughter had her first Zoom meeting with a class on Thursday afternoon. The teacher started a private Facebook group for parents to get information and ask questions.

To establish a school routine Thompson said she created a learning area in the bedrooms. Creating a space offers structure and avoids distractions that occur on the living room couch or at the kitchen table.

"We try to separate it as much as possible," Thompson said.

The kids wake up and know they need to "get to school." Being at home there will be times where she allows a longer break if it's a nice day outside. They make it up by working a little into the evening, she said.

The Zoom homeroom is the only contact the kids have with classmates, she said. Her son and a friend have now created their own Zoom meeting room where they hang out while playing chess online.

"So they've kind of opened a world of playdates through the online world so they can see and interact with each other," Thompson said. "It helps with the sense of normalcy to get through this time."

Thompson was working part time but not during the shutdown. She is grateful in a way because she can be the stay at home mom while her husband continues working full time from home.

After the morning announcements the school physical education teacher, Adam Miller, leads the students along with willing teachers and parents in a "Get Up and Get Moving" workout.

The shutdown is difficult for a teacher who works with every student in the school, Miller said. "This is perfect to just get the kids up and going," Miller said. "Everybody knows that when your body is moving then you learn better."

The first attempt on Monday went well as the kids were excited to see their classmates on Zoom, he said.

"The smiles on their faces were pretty awesome," Miller said. "It was great for me to see all the kids but the kids seeing their friends, that was a great thing."

Online exercise class is a tool for the circumstances, he said. It's an opportunity to get kids motivated who may otherwise be sleeping until noon.

"It's an opportunity to have something to do while they are stuck at home," Miller said.

Miller uses YouTube exercise videos for the better visuals than are his own demonstrations that are harder to see with a computer camera and the students say they can get "glitchy." As his skill with Zoom improves so will the classes, he said.

"I don't mind the videos because I use them with fitness classes, yoga and dance class," he said. "It's nice to have but I would much rather have the kids in the gym or the weight room or outside."

For Miller the shutdown has made him a stay at home dad to his 3-year-old and 1-year-old children while his wife continues working outside the home. He divides his time throughout the day with his classes and grading.

There is value with online learning and it is important to keep students engaged and continuing to learn, Kopka said. This situation allows students and staff to use technology at a deeper level.

Students in grades 7-12 meet online with teachers via Zoom twice a week, and have assignments in their Google Classroom accounts three days a week. Many of these students already had online textbooks or were fairly good at using internet resources.

Students in grades 4-6 meet three days a week on Zoom. The teachers use the online time for instruction along with helping students get accustomed to the technology.

Pre-kindergarten to third-grade teachers created bags for each student to hold their math and reading books. They use Zoom for instruction and for the students to read aloud.

"We are trying to continue learning while they are at home until we are back in the classroom," Kopka said. "So far it is going well."

The online platforms also present the school guidance counselor an opportunity to ensure that student social and emotional well being is addressed during this time, she said.

"We realize that this is not an ideal situation but hopefully it offers support," Kopka said.


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