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School officials, parents reflect on ‘lessons learned’ during pandemic school year

Updated: Jun. 3, 2021 at 6:50 PM CDT
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MARION, Iowa (KCRG) - For one of the last times before the summer, the hallways at Excelsior Middle School were packed with students on Wednesday.

“It’s going to be a weight lifted off our shoulders, and a chance to get to refresh and reset,” said Alexander Hajek, 7th grade Social Studies Teacher at the school.

After an unprecedented school year switching from in-person to virtual learning and everything in between, Hajek says his biggest concern has been the impact on relationships.

“One thing that’s really important to me is the connection and relationships,” Hajek said. “Things that I’ve done physically in the room, how do I change that and adapt that to the computer and through Zoom.”

The changes included launching Schoology, an online learning platform.

“I have never used Zoom before this year. I think a lot of people can relate to that,” said 7th grade Social Studies Teacher Josh Battern.

It took a lot of trial and error. Some things worked.

“Being able to collect student work through the multiple platforms worked. Going one-to-one as the school allowed it to even if a student was in-person, I could provide them the same platform for assignment as the kids were at home,” said Battern.

Others didn’t go as expected.

“Anything that was really big and took multi-steps in one document, with some of those things kids would get lost along the way,” said Hajek.

“The Derecho was a surprise, and having to totally modify those first two weeks of school,” Battern added.

One thing Hajek did to keep connected with students was making class fun.

“I would always come in with a new background and a new hat on each day,” he said.

Some kids struggled, but others excelled, like Kerry Smith’s two middle schoolers.

“They figured out the routine and figured out how this was gonna work, both in their physical space with their technology,” said Smith. “With my youngest son, I definitely had to be more hands-on with him and make sure he was on task.”

However, she says it taught them resilience and flexibility.

“My eighth grader is going to be in high school next year, and I think she’s really well prepared for that for the time management that she’s going to need,” Smith added.

Smith said she hopes the option for virtual continues. The School’s Principal says it will, but he feels like they may have relied on it too much.

“The importance of going back to the paper and pencil, and kind of getting away from that device screen is powerful,” said John Christian.

As the year comes to a close, it’s one of the many takeaways looking ahead.

“The biggest takeaway for me is just that we can do hard things,” said Smith.

“I think we learned a lot, and will be able to find that perfect balance next year,” said Christian.

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