RANDOM LAKE — Wednesday marked the official start of school closures across Wisconsin due to coronavirus. A Sheboygan County school district already feels ahead of the game.
Random Lake School District started its virtual learning option some six years ago. It was established to combat excessive snow days so students wouldn't have extra days added to the end of the school year. Now, it's proving to be a savior for the school year.
"This may be one of the most disruptive things in education ever," Michael E. Trimberger, District Administrator said. "It's different. It's very different. If I had my preference, I'd rather have the energy of the kids in classrooms and the hallways doing those things but we don't have that right now."
For students in kindergarten to 12th grade, they log on to computers from home every single day as their teachers lead them in the daily lesson. Teachers can communicate via video, text or audio. There are tasks students need to complete during class to show they are paying attention. So this isn't just an extended spring break for students.
"Just because it's virtual doesn't mean lesser learning," Trimberger said. "In our experience with virtual snow days, our students were glad to come back because the virtual days were harder than the days they were in here."
For younger students, they won't miss a beat either. The three first grade teachers at Random Lake work together to make sure all 43 students in the grade continue getting a quality education.
"I don't know if anything is better than face-to-face," Krystal Vanden Heuval, a first grade teacher said. "However, this is not just us making it work or sending out packets or praying and hoping they'll continue their education. We really feel we're delivering our best material even though it's digitally."
Vanden Heuvel and her fellow first grade teachers make interactive videos to keep their students engaged. The videos feel as if they could be placed in between segments on Sesame Street; like telling kids which vowel makes the dominant sound when joined together.
It helps the teachers also remain involved in the students' lives; kids they've established relationships with over the last eight months.
"I think eventually, they will miss the face-to-face," Amy Kurth, another first grade teacher said. "I had one already say, I miss you. I'm like, I miss you too! I'm glad you're here."
The School District says they expect to maintain virtual learning until early April because of coronavirus. However, they're prepared to continue educating the kids in this way for as long as they need to.