'It was going to happen at some point'

Douglas County teachers say they prepared all year for remote learning

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Douglas County School District students are returning from Thanksgiving break to full remote education.

Douglas County teachers say they were ready for the district's transition because they began preparations for what felt like the inevitable from the semester's beginning.

“We've had it in the back of our minds, that it was going to happen at some point,” Ponderosa High School ceramics teacher Micah Bernhardt said. “Even if you are prepared for this, it's still a shock and you're not fully prepared for it until it happens.”

Bernhardt had put together take-home kits of clay and tools for his students so they could swiftly take projects home and work from there. He wants to minimize his students' screen time during remote learning by keeping them busy with hands-on projects, he said.

While he felt prepared for remote learning, he believes the loss of face-to-face communication will still be significant.

“It's hard to grow and nurture a relationship over a computer,” he said.

But his students are tough, he said, and remote learning in the spring taught him to keep up his empathy for what children are going through during the pandemic.

Erin DiGeorge, a sixth-grade teacher at Castle Rock Elementary, said the surge in COVID-19 cases across the state clearly signaled to her the district would shift to remote learning.

Thankfully, teachers had time during hybrid learning to build relationships with students before the switch, she said. DiGeorge said that during remote learning, she plans to keep students on as close a schedule as she can to what they had during hybrid.

She spent the two weeks before Thanksgiving break preparing her students for a transition. She was able to ask students what they wanted during remote learning and how the virtual instruction could be improved from the springtime.

“I was able to get their input and have them tell me: what do they want, what is going to work best for you guys, and take that and really listen to them. So that's a big difference,” she said.

DiGeorge planned to start each morning by having students come together, to interact with each student and give them time to socialize while separated during the pandemic.

She'll keep Google meetings open all day, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., in case students need help with anything.

“Like any teacher, I know we want to be in the classroom right now, but we can't,” she said. “I'm positive about it and I'm excited to see just the difference between the spring of last year and this year.”

Katie Hassett, who teaches seventh-grade math at Cimarron Middle School in Parker, said she has used Google Classroom for all her curriculum the entire year, which she hopes will make for a smooth transition to remote learning.

“What's nice about remote is that they are going to be following the same schedule every day,” she said. “That was not something that was in place for every school in the spring.”

Students will have to attend their bell schedule, bringing more structure to the day, Hassett said. But it will be up to teachers to bring the energy and help keep students engaged for the remainder of this semester.

“It's been a challenge. A challenge in the spring, a challenge during hybrid on remote days,” she said. “We have to understand these are challenging times.”

If there was one thing all three educators agreed on, it was the resiliency of Douglas County students, they said. Hassett wanted to thank parents and their children for their flexibility during the pandemic.

“Sometimes we don't give kids enough credit,” Hassett said. “They can adjust to change. It doesn't mean it's easy for them, but I'm just amazed.”

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