When Julie Hudnell heard school was delayed because of COVID-19 she immediately thought about her students.

“One of the first thoughts that I had when everything came about was I’m going to really be missing my students and I would really like to be in my classroom,” said the third grade teacher at Saint Patrick’s School. “Also, how am I going to teach distance learning. That was one of my biggest fears, how am I going to do this, how am I going to incorporate the learning while being at home?”

The school year was paused right after spring break after an announcement by Gov. Kim Reynolds to close all schools for at least a month. Saint Patrick’s immediately started a voluntary online learning program. The program has since switched to a mandatory learning program.

Hudnell’s husband helped her transform their home office into a “mini” classroom.

“I have various sizes of whiteboards that I can use just like I would use them in the classroom,” Hudnell said. “I also use my Smart Notebook which is on my computer and I use the Zoom share screen to teach lessons. Although they can’t see me when I use this, they can hear my voice and see my screen as they learn the lesson.”

Hudnell also looked up numerous how-to videos for using Google Classroom.

“Just a lot of self teaching and trial and error, lots of trial and error,” Hudnell said of preparing to teach her students online.

Middle School Language Arts Teacher Megan Sassatelli has also been using Google Classroom to stay connected with her students.

“I wanted the transition to online learning to be as smooth as possible for the students,” she said.

She added that they were lucky as she had already been using Google Classroom to have students submit papers. The transition to online learning was a bit easier for her students.

Sassatelli also transitioned some of her daily classroom activities to online, including her bell ringers. She would give the students a writing prompt for them to complete when they came into the classroom. Sassatelli now poses a question and the students respond online. While it’s not the same as meeting face-to-face, she said students can still comment on each other’s posts and she can respond as well.

Sassatelli has also been holding weekly Zoom meetings on Fridays.

“It gives us that moment during the week where we can see each other face-to-face through those groups and connect with each other that way,” she said.

Hudnell meets with her students on Zoom every day. Students can also request a Zoom meeting outside of the time that the class meets.

While she said the students have been adapting to the new normal of online learning, it’s still difficult.

“We’re all in this, we’re all learning together. You can tell that they really want to be in the classroom,” Hudnell said.

Moving to online learning was an adjustment not only for the students but also the teachers.

“This is something that none of us have dealt with before,” Sassatelli said.

As a first-year teacher, she added that moving to online learning was something that she was not prepared for.

“I shared with the students, regardless of how this year ends, this is probably going to be the most memorable year of my life,” Sassatelli said. “It’s been hard adjusting to not seeing them every day but I’m glad we get to make these connections online, still interacting with each other even though it’s not face-to-face.”

Sassatelli and Hudnell said while this year has been challenging, it will make everyone stronger in the long run.

“I’m trying to keep it as meaningful as possible so they know I’m not just throwing information at them,” Sassatelli said of the work her students are doing. “I want them to know this is still important learning and we’re building on the skills we spent the whole year learning. They’re going to end the year feeling accomplished.”

“Even though it’s been difficult at first, I think it’s going to make my students better learners,” Hudnell said. “I think they’re being well-prepared right now and just one thing if I could say to all of them, I miss them, I hope they’re doing well and I can’t wait to see them again.”