Katie Haese is teaching all-virtual students in the Wrightstown Community School District from the corner of her living room.
By Brian Roebke
When schools reopened in Sep-tember, some parents just did not feel comfortable having their children in school because of the coronavirus pandemic.
For some students and their families the learning from home option, with a teacher instead of a parent leading the learning, was the best situation they thought would work for the family.
Enter Katie Haese as a teacher for all-virtual students in the Wrightstown Community School District. To make the experience even more virtual, she teaches from the corner of the living room in her Wrightstown home.
Haese was hired to manage the students who chose to learn virtually and to help keep connections between the students and the school.
There are currently 59 students in the grades K-5 Acellus program and 57 students in grades 6-12 Courseware program.
“I spend the majority of my 20 hours a week managing the Acellus program for the younger grade levels and meeting with the students,” she said. “For grades 6-12, I only do the progress monitoring.”
When the district decided to offer the virtual option for students, they wanted to have someone with a teaching background to help any students who may need re-teaching.
“I’ve never done any virtual teaching, so other than seeing my own kids doing virtual schooling at the end of last year, it was all new to me,” she said.
Haese is no stranger in the school setting, teaching for eight years with most of them being for sixth grade in Wrightstown, and she has a masters degree in educational technology.
Her main subject area was math but she also taught language arts, science, and reading before having children and deciding to stay home.
“It was an adjustment to start working again, but the biggest adjustment for me was to truly figure out how the Acellus program worked,” she said. “I had some training right away, and the first week of virtual learning was pretty crazy, but as I learned more about the program, everything started to go much more smoothly.”
While some students doing virtual learning in other districts must be logged into their devices for the start of the school day and the teacher takes attendance, her students don’t actually have certain times they need to be logged in.
“Each day is a little different,” she said. “Most of them do like to follow a normal school day schedule, but there are a few who prefer to do school work on nights or weekends.”
Students have weekly goals they try to meet, and I am always checking their progress to make sure their grades stay up and they don’t fall behind. I spend time each week monitoring progress in Acellus and Courseware, answering any questions that come up from parents or students, and doing Google Meets with each grade level K-5.
When she was hired, she needed a place to “work” from at home. Fifth grade teacher Sarah Trower was getting an extra bedroom at her house set up as a nursery and had a desk she was looking to get rid of. “She thought of me and offered it up, so it’s in the corner of my living room where I work from,” Haese said. “The only time it has been a problem was when my twin daughters were in quarantine and learning virtually from home.”
She went into her daughter’s bedroom that day for her meetings with students, and a few of the inquisitive kids asked why her background was different.
Haese sees students definitely making connections with each other despite the distance.
“Each time when I enter one of our meetings, there are usually a lot of them already in the meeting talking, laughing, and sharing stories,” Haese said. “The meetings aren’t required, so there are some students that don’t come. The students who do attend regularly really make it feel like a close-knit group.”
They come up with topics to talk about in their next meeting, so they come prepared. “We’ve had fun topics like our favorite books and movies, and we have all been in charge of bringing our favorite joke,” she said. “We have also shared pictures of our families and talked about our favorite family traditions to help everyone get to know each other a bit better.”
They have also used items around the house like Legos, Magnatiles, or popsicle sticks to build things and had times where they drew fall scenes and ideas for jack-o-lanterns to give them some hands-on projects.
The curriculum students have with Acellus is very similar to what they’d be learning at school.
Most students have five classes — language arts/reading, math, science, social studies, and social emotional learning — with some differences depending on grade level. Because they are virtual, students are learning some different skills than those in the classroom.
“They are definitely learning important skills in time-management, prioritizing, accountability, and organization,” Haese said. “The students who are attending the online meetings are also gaining valuable communication skills as I can see online meetings being much more common in the future.”
Technology issues are probably one of the biggest obstacles she’s had to overcome. “I get emails often from parents that their child can’t get logged into Acellus. We need to figure out what the issue is, but usually there is a quick solution,” she said.
Being away from classmates sitting in the same room with them is hard for some, but there have been some victories with virtual learning.
“When we started this at the beginning of the year, our biggest concern was for the mental health of the students who would be learning virtually,” Haese said. “I can’t believe how well the kids are doing with it, though.”
Many of them are smiling, laughing, and really enjoying their school year. Haese appreciates that parents are doing a great job helping their kids get out of the house and helping them stay active. “It’s great to hear some of the creative things families are doing to stay safe while continuing having fun,” she said. “While virtual learning isn’t for everyone, some students are really striving and excelling in their classes.”
The school district’s plan is for this to continue at least until the end of the year as long as there are students choosing to learn virtually.
Haese is amazed how well her students are doing with this learning option. She enjoys it and thinks a lot of the students are also.
“There are certainly aspects of in-person learning we all miss, but the flexibility this allows is great,” she said.
Haese looks forward to each different grade level for a different reason. For example, hearing a new joke from a certain boy in one group, hearing about the new creation one girl recently baked in another group, and seeing which toy a specific boy is loving to play with in a different group.
“Each grade level meeting is unique and fun, and if we were in a traditional classroom setting, I may not be seeing and hearing so much about what these kids are doing at home,” she said. The kids have told her some of the things they enjoy, including being able to work on school work whenever it works in their schedule, staying in pajamas all day long some days, and eating breakfast or snacks as they watch a lesson.
Haese said parents and teachers have been great to work with and she appreciates all the efforts they have put forth to keep the lines of communication open.
“Nothing about this year has been ideal, but we’re making the best of it to keep our virtual students connected, and it’s going better than most have expected,” she said.