“I was planning on being in person': Eau Claire teachers redefine roles this school year

NOW: “I was planning on being in person’: Eau Claire teachers redefine roles this school year

EAU CLAIRE, Mich. - Tonight ABC57’s Learning Curve series continues in a special way. We head to Eau Claire, Michigan, about 25 miles north of South Bend.

What started as a semester of virtual learning for Eau Claire Public Schools has morphed into special relationships between teachers and students outside of the classroom. In some cases, the teachers are even making house calls!

Many parents and teachers are getting in the swing of doing video calls and online classwork. But at Eau Claire Public Schools, four teachers are going above and beyond to educate their students.

“I was planning on being in person, I was to understand just from my conversations with Mr. Keith Lee, our principal, and our superintendent Ann Shell, that we would have some virtual students. Uncovered? We just didn't know how many until it got really close. And once those numbers came in because it was probably close to 100 students within our building, it was the best choice was to pull regular teachers and have them do the virtual learning," Jennifer Zeller, the third and fourth-grade virtual teacher said.

Eau Claire Schools are using Calvert Learning Virtual Academy this year.

"They originally had teachers that were going to provide for the virtual learning, but they ran into a shortage of teachers. Yeah. And that is basically when it would be best for us to use our regular teachers, and guide them through the Calvert Learning virtual experience," Zeller said.

This year, Zeller is teaching a split between third and fourth grade. 

"So I do both their lessons for them," she said.

With nearly 30% of the students at home learning virtually, there’s a sort of quietness in the halls but teachers are finding ways to meet with those virtual students even if it has to be outside.

“One of the goals is to come some kind of face to face with the students. And I would really like to do an outdoor experience so that we would maybe meet at the park down here," Zeller said. "And all the students that are in virtual with me, or we can do all our virtual students, but it would probably be better if we stagger them. And so my third and fourth-grade students would show up, you know, between 11, and noon, and then we'd all see each other. And I think that would really help them without that isolation feeling of learning at home."

As the first bell rings and students get to their classes, one teacher is seen meeting one of her virtual students outside. 

“I'm making videos all day long. But um, today, I brought some stuff for Jordan, to look at some, some books to read some things about nature and some flashcards and fractions and some things that you can use while he's at home while we do our academy online with them," Katherine Glassman the first and second-grade virtual teacher said. "Jordans, a good reader. And these are really interesting about animals in nature. And I know that right up his alley, so I just want to make sure he had some things to do at home.”

“It allows them the parents and the student to get a hold of me at any time, and I can reteach anything that they don't understand. One of the things with covered learning with a digital teacher, they might not have that connection with the students or have their test scores and know what ability that they're working at. Whereas as a regular teacher, we have that," Zeller said.

When asking Jordan about his thoughts on virtual learning online, he said it's "good."

His older brother Keigen doesn't have the same sentiments.

"Sometimes good, sometimes sucks," he said. "I don't like the computer. I can't really learn anything."

But his attitude changed when asked about this face to face option some teachers are setting up. Keigen saying he is excited about the possibility.

“For me, it was hard. My kids love school, they love their friends. They love their teachers. But having her and being so young, it took me a minute to I guess, decide on which way was the best way to go. And I still don't know if I made the best decision," Sky Ward, a mother of four, including Keigen, Jordan and Christopher, three virtual academy students.

“Jordan, you know, she's worked with them for the last couple years. And it makes it a lot easier on them not just getting on just to see a face, they actually know that person. And they have some of their friends are at home too, so they can see some of their friend's faces. And then Mr. Keith, he's doing his once a week, you know, all meeting and they love that too, because then they can see what the kids are doing at home and at school, and they can kind of see each other. So it kind of gives them a little reassurance that, you know, we're all in it together," she said.

The help, Sky Ward said, is a big relief.

“Oh, yeah, for sure. Especially when having three boys all in different grades. It is way easier. I don't think I could imagine doing it without them," she said.

The virtual academy in general is a much different experience than virtual learning in the spring. 

”It was much more of a struggle than it is now. That is for sure. Because my students didn't know. And I didn't know. And so it was a learning experience for both of us," Zeller said. “It's been going really well this year, and really impressed with my students and their ability to adapt to this program.

“We are just trying to give them what they need to be successful," Glassman said.

Coming up Thursday on The Learning Curve, our team is diving into connectivity issues since Eau Claire Public Schools is in a rural part of Berrien County.

If you have any questions or just want your school looked into, email us at [email protected] and we will dive in.

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