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School Inside a Computer

What its like for local families in this new normal

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For the last several months, a large percentage Americans have been working from their homes. Most students around the nation have been attending class virtually. Northgate School District, which serves students in both Bellevue and Avalon, is no exception to the new virtual schooling effort that has come out of the COVID-19 lockdown. While the approach to education may look different right now, the faculty and staff of our local schools are working hard to meet the needs of Northgate families, each of which is dealing with this change in their own way.

Dr. Chris Caton, Director of Curriculum and Assessment for Northgate, recognizes that this event is unprecedented. He believes that “Northgate School District’s greatest strength is a faculty that is dedicated to the students and this community.” When discussing this new way of learning via email, he repeatedly stresses how hard the faculty and staff have worked to be in contact students and keep some continuity in lesson plans.  “I would say that our teachers thrive on the connections they have with their students and vise versa. Not being in the classroom really challenged us to identify student need and respond accordingly.”

Evie Zimmerman, age 5, does virtual school lessons. Photo provided by Laura Zimmerman.

Laura Zimmerman of Bellevue is the parent of a kindergarten student at Bellevue Elementary and would agree. “The one-to-one conversation between my daughter [Evie, age 5] and her teacher has been rich, consistent and personal – perhaps more than before just because of the individualized nature of school right now. (There’s something very personal about seeing a teacher teach from her kitchen or bedroom, and vice versa).” Laura notes that Evie’s teacher responds with encouragement to each and every assignment that Evie turns in. This one on one experience has also given Evie a chance to share her home life with her teacher: introducing her to her dog & siblings as well as sharing what a day in their household is like. Evie has had a chance to give her teacher a tour of her home and bedroom and has, in return, learned a lot about her teacher as a person outside the classroom. The Zimmermans have only one school-aged child, so one of the biggest adjustments for them has been rearranging the family’s schedule to allow Laura to help Evie with schoolwork around the work schedule of dad Seth and the nap schedules of younger siblings Renna [age 4] and Micah [age 3].

With three school-aged children at home, the Helbling family has made a unique schedule to accommodate the needs of two sons, ages 16 and 15, and one daughter, 11. Their mom, Julie, has been working from home and notes that teenagers love to sleep, so adjusting to a flexible school schedule has been a challenge. She says, “I let them sleep in the mornings so I can work uninterrupted, however it’s a struggle to make sure they are up and at ‘em  by even 11 AM… While 11 AM may seem like a very ‘late’ wakeup time, it’s what works for us so that we can get work and other things accomplished in the AM.”

Julie has been pleased with the responsiveness she has seen from teachers and school staff when asking questions. The elementary school guidance counselor even reached out to her because her daughter was doing work for an online class but forgetting to hit “submit.” Julie feels like “they are really focused on making sure the kids get the work done” and she also really appreciates “that the band teacher has set up a schedule for the kids to ‘sign up’ so she can do virtual lessons with them if they choose.”

Evie Zimmerman, age 5, shows her teacher her work during virtual schooling. Photo provided by Laura Zimmerman.

The Zimmerman family is also benefitting from the support system that teachers and school staff have created. They seem understanding of the challenges each family is facing and “respond with grace if we miss something.” Laura has also appreciated the support from the staff as well as the emphasis on family relationships that has come out of this. And support is not just found from school employees, but from fellow parents: Laura noted that the parents of kindergarteners at Bellevue Elementary have a Facebook group together, which allows her to “feel understood and not alone in this weird, challenging experience.

The staff, according to Dr. Caton, has come together in an impressive way to collaborate and problem solve. They meet regularly through Google Meet to “share resources and lessons and to discuss the needs of the students. Together, they’ve been able to accomplish so much more than anyone could have alone.”

The last day for Northgate students is this Friday, June 5th. To celebrate the graduating class of 2020, there will be a parade from the high school through Avalon and Bellevue. Residents are encouraged to decorate porches, hold signs, and make some noise for the Northgate Seniors.

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Born in Pittsburgh, but raised in Michigan, Erika made her triumphant return to the Steel City in 2008 to attend graduate school at Duquesne University where she earned a Masters in Public History. She moved to Bellevue from the East End in 2017, in search of a small town environment in which to raise a family. Erika immediately jumped into the deep end of local volunteerism: she is one of the founders of the Bellevue Farmers Market, currently serves as the Vice President of the Friends of Bayne Library, as well as the planning team that brought the community WizardVue. Erika is passionate about local history, sewing, cross stitch, and her friends & family and is looking forward to creating more magic in the community via The Nobo Neighbor. She lives in her Forever Bellevue home with her husband, two small boys, and two geriatric cats.

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