Students adapt to new lifestyle

Armatage Montessori School students Sebastien and Kailani Wanduragala toss a Frisbee on April 22 at Kenwood Park. Kailani says working from home is “like school with all the fun things taken out of it.” Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, Washburn High School 11th-grader Paco Navarro has typically done his schoolwork in the mornings, using Google Classroom to submit assignments to his teachers.

There haven’t been any tests, Navarro said, but some teachers have given quizzes. Assignments have been about as difficult as they were before the pandemic, and some teachers have used online video platforms such as Flipgrid to have students give each other feedback.

“Even though it’s minor amounts of interaction, it’s still fun to see what people have to say,” Navarro said.

Southwest Minneapolis students said they have video chatted with friends and successfully navigated online schoolwork during the pandemic but have missed being with their peers.

Most have WiFi and computers on which to do their work, but not all.

Students also said there is still a lot of uncertainty, even after Gov. Tim Walz declared on April 23 that in-person classes would be canceled for the rest of the year.

“I don’t know what to feel about a lot of stuff, because it’s just so up in the air,” Southwest High School 12th-grader Helena Towne said.

Towne, Navarro and other high school students said they have typically been able to complete their schoolwork by noon or 1 p.m. each day. Teachers have quickly responded to emails, they said, and it’s been easy to find their way around Google Classroom, the online platform on which teachers post assignments.

For students without devices, their parents have been “tremendously grateful and relieved” when the school is able to deliver them, said Andy Uhler assistant principal at Jefferson Community School in Lowry Hill East. About 90% of students there are eligible for free or reduced lunch. He said the school has gotten devices to almost every kid in the building.

Southwest 12th-grader TK Marshall has been using his phone to complete assignments for his four classes. He said he only has about an hour’s worth of work each day and can do everything he needs on his phone but that it would have been nice to have a computer.

“You can get it done,” he said. “It’s just a little bit more work.”

Xbox hangouts

At Southwest and Washburn, students had been preparing for International Baccalaureate (IB) tests, spring sports, prom and other activities when MPS, in line with an earlier Walz order, closed to students on March 16.

IB tests and spring sports have been canceled. Washburn’s prom, which was scheduled for April 18, has tentatively been postponed until June 6.

Washburn 12th-grader Kal Szarkowicz said she likes to study independently so transitioning to online education hasn’t been too taxing. But it has been hard not seeing friends and teachers.

Szarkowicz, who’s set to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall, said most of her classes have worked well online, but classes like orchestra and Spanish have their limitations. She also said her tutoring business has taken a hit during the pandemic.

Towne, who has committed to attending St. Olaf college in the fall, said the last three months of school are usually the best part of senior year.

She and her siblings have continued to alternate daily between their parents’ houses during the pandemic, since they are divorced. She said it’s been surreal to realize she may never again see some of her classmates.

Washburn High School 12th-grader Ethan Buss said teachers are giving students plenty of time to complete work. Each night at 9 p.m., he and his friends have been hanging out virtually via their Xboxes.

Marshall, who has a scholarship to play football at North Dakota State University, said it’s been tough to stay in shape during the pandemic. He doesn’t have weights at home — other than three 10-pound plates that he stuffs in a reusable shopping bag — so he runs and does pushups, sit-ups and different bodyweight workouts.

His position coach at North Dakota State has also sent him workouts to do, but during normal times, Marshall would be spending time each day in the weight room at Southwest.

He’s planning to start having meetings with his position coach virtually when the NCAA allows him to do so.

‘All apart’

The transition hasn’t been easy for younger students, either.

Armatage Montessori School students Sebastien and Kailani Wanduragala said they have been able to navigate the technology, though Kailani, a third-grader, said there can be problems with Google Forms at times.

Working from home is “like school with all the fun things taken out of it,” Kailani said.

Sebastien’s fifth-grade class has met twice each week over Google Meet. Sebastien said he’s been ending his at-home school day with assignments from teachers who specialize in subjects like physical education, art and music. If he’s not sure about something related to the technology, he’ll email his teacher or check the teacher’s Google Classroom page.

One benefit of remote education: Sebastien and Kailani don’t have to wake up as early for school.

Justice Page Middle School sixth-grader Arie Gullickson Henley said she typically has three hours of work on a slow day and about five on a normal day.

Her elective classes, such as art, choir and Spanish, don’t have as much work as her core classes. She said she’s probably not learning quite as much from home but that it’s nice not to have distractions.

Clara Barton Open School seventh-grader Naomi Sojourner-Cassidy said her teachers have been giving students a week’s worth of work at a time and that she prioritizes assignments based on due dates.

“On Mondays, it’s a little overwhelming,” she said, adding that the workload lessens as the week progresses.

Naomi said it’s nice being able to go at her own pace and take breaks when she wants to but that she misses the opportunities for one-on-one help from teachers.

She, too, said it’s hard not being with friends, though she has been texting them daily and will sometimes FaceTime with them.

“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” she said. “It’s hard to have a school community when we’re all apart from each other.”