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Police, fire departments benefit from one of many new aspects of distance learning in school district

Gladstone High School freshmen this month delivered 70 face shields they made for the Gladstone police and fire departments.

COURTESY PHOTO - Gladstone High School freshmen deliver face shields to the city's Civic Center.Police Chief John Schmerber accepted the face shields Friday, May 8, in front of the new Gladstone Civic Center.

As part of the school's new distance-learning curriculum, freshmen are learning about the biology of COVID-19, how it spreads and how to make face shields. The new class in science, design and manufacturing is taught by a team of three teachers: digital multimedia teacher Brenden Thwing, science teacher Kevin Zerzan and construction technology teacher Mike Leone.

COURTESY PHOTO - Gladstone High School teacher Brenden Thwing models a face shield made by students for local first responders.Thwing has two of the school's Makerbot 3D printers at home and used them to create face shield parts for relatives who are medics. That gave him the idea to get his students involved through a distance-learning assignment.

"We loved the idea of students and staff collaborating to benefit our first responders," Thwing said. "We can't be together in the classroom this spring, but we can still accomplish some important work for our community. That's what this class is all about." The teachers are following all Personal Protective Equipment Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control to make the face shield kits, sterilizing everything before mailing the kits to students. The parts are made from a filament safe for disinfecting.

"We are grateful. The willingness of these students to support first responders and city staff demonstrates their innovation and kindness," Schmerber said. "We believe our kids are our future, and that's why we are proud to partner with our schools by assigning Officer Eric Graves as their School Resource Officer."

Teachers tackle distance learning

As it became clear that schools would not reopen this school year, Gladstone teachers were asked to transform school from a classroom-based model to distance learning in just two weeks.

District staff sanitized and distributed more than 800 Chromebook computers to families. Teachers met in videoconference meetings to master new technology platforms and plan lessons students could work on at home. Distance learning began April 13.

"I really have to give it to our staff," said John Wetten Principal Wendy Wilson. "They turned on a dime, and despite a steep technology learning curve, they brought innovation and positive energy to help our students through a difficult time."

Course material has been delivered using pre-recorded videos. For middle school and high school students, these are delivered via Google Classroom, a familiar platform. For elementary students, lessons come on Seesaw, a new tool for both teachers and students. In the fourth week, the district began allowing some real-time video interaction for grades 6 to 12, including math tutorials and opportunities for home room classes to connect.

Parental feedback to the district has indicated that kids miss their classmates and teachers, but their spirits have been boosted by a regular routine and a connection to school.

Teachers have shifted from group instruction to helping individual students.

"I am now able to give specific feedback to almost all of my students most days," said third-grade teacher Patti Banka. "Unfortunately during these hard times, some families are just not able to access the technology. It breaks my heart not to have a personal connection to teach and guide every single student."

Seth Arnold, who teaches band at Kraxberger Middle School and Gladstone High School, also misses daily contact with students.

"I'm teaching in new ways now. Music creation software has been a great way to get kids to compose music they're interested in," he said. "When this is all over, we will appreciate that playing music with people every day is a gift."

"Our students have recognized the change and disappointment of not being at school each day," said fifth-grade teacher Cathy Mitchell. "One lesson kids are learning is that when we accept change with a positive mindset, we can do hard things in life. Together and with perseverance we have been able to launch online learning. And that's an incredible accomplishment."

Distance learning has brought teachers together to share their strengths and collaborate in new ways.

"Even though we are farther apart physically, we have actually become closer," Banka said. "Our grade level team is supporting one another through difficulties with balancing family life and work life to frustration with noise levels and learning this monumental task of teaching our students from a distance."

Teachers are seeing some students turn in work on weekends, or in the middle of the night.

"One upside has been the freedom of choice that comes with distance learning," Arnold said. "Students can choose the time, place, and subject they learn at any given moment. What teenager doesn't want more control over their life?"

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