The halls are a lot emptier than they were before school let out for spring break in mid-March.

“From my perspective, it’s just eerily quiet when you go into the building. Almost an uncomfortable feeling of not having students there and just the buzz and the everyday happenings,” Perry Middle School Principal Shaun Kruger said.

School closed in mid-March because of COVID-19 concerns after Gov. Kim Reynolds recommended all Iowa schools close for a month. School was initially set to return on May 1 but a new announcement from the governor said districts would not be reopening this school year.

The Perry Community School District implemented a Voluntary Educational Enrichment Opportunity plan soon after spring break was over. Kruger praised the work staff members did to make the transition from the classroom to online learning.

“Throughout this, the teachers have been working to provide resources and try to stay connected to students the best they can,” he said.

That included calling their advisory students to let them know where to find resources, sending emails to families and students, creating and updating classroom Facebook pages, holding online office hours and more.

Chris Marks, 6-8 technology teacher, has stayed in contact with his students and parents through phone calls and emails. He also uses Zoom to virtually meet with his advisory students face-to-face.

“It’s important for the students so they feel connected. It’s important for us too,” Marks said. “I haven’t talked to a teacher yet who doesn’t miss their students. We all want to be back in school. It’s not just important for students, but it’s important for us.”

Marks said in addition to connecting with his students he is also updating the middle school’s Facebook page with new resources and activities from teachers.

Carla Wood, sixth-grade social studies teacher, has been using Google Classroom to stay connected with her students. She added that the online system for uploading content and links was one she had already used before the transition to online learning.

Another tool that Wood is using is PenPal Schools. She is able to log in to the site and choose a topic, ranging from science to language arts, math and more. Students are invited to participate in the topic and are asked an essential question.

“The first one I’m doing is called Explorers and Adventurers. There are six or seven different activities and they click on each one and each page has different information for them in order for them to make an informed response,” Wood said.

Once their response is submitted, she said it goes to other students who are active in that topic. Her students have talked to others from Australia, Africa, Europe and across the United States. The PenPal Schools program has been a popular one for her students, though she said the transition from the classroom to online has still been an adjustment.

“We’re all kind of slow to this new type of learning, we all have to give each other patience. It’s a learning curve,” Wood said.

While grades are not given with the voluntary learning plan, Wood said she is still able to give feedback to students. She likes to send emails to students asking if they need help with a certain topic, or if they want more resources.

“Kids are hungry for learning, they are,” Wood added.

Kruger encourages parents and students to utilize the resources available on the district’s website. Each building has its own set of resources, with each of the middle school’s grades having separate links.

“Hopefully the resources we’re providing to students will give them some learning opportunities so they don’t get too far behind,” Kruger said.

He added that the biggest challenge with the voluntary plan is having a high level of participation from the students.

“Don’t be afraid to try new things and don’t be afraid to do something on your own too. If you don’t see anything that interests you, find something else.” Marks said to students. “Keep working on stuff and just don’t let this be a time to sit around the house and play video games. Let this be a time where you go out and try new things while still at home.”

Though Wood said she sympathizes with parents who are trying to work from home as well as help their children learn. She recommends parents “take it slow” and “do what you can.”

“It is overwhelming and we don’t want it to be. Our main goal at the middle school is just to offer (resources), to be there and to help them through this journey,” Wood said. “We’re in it together and we just want the best for our students.”