One Lakota teacher’s experience in virtual learning during coronavirus

Lakota Ridge Junior School teacher Katie Bauer is one of hundreds of teachers who are splitting their work days between leading online learning and teaching in-person classes. More than 3,500 Lakota students are in the district's Virtual Learning Option this fall due to coronavirus concerns. (Provided Photo\Journal-News)

For thousands of Lakota school students, their classroom this fall is their computer screen, and teachers like Katie Bauer are their link to learning in coronavirus times.

The Lakota Ridge Junior School teaches seventh-graders whose parents signed them up for Virtual Learning Option through the first semester of the school year.

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More than 3,500 students are enrolled in the learn-from-home program and Bauer is considered one of the best at the all-digital instruction that sees her working online from a classroom in her school.

The five-year Lakota veteran instructor, who graduated from the district, teaches two classes of students, 83 total each school day.

She also splits her work day with traditional, in-person classroom instruction for another 70 students.

It’s a dual, balancing act of teaching never tried before but is now a necessity brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is different, but the world is different right now,” said Bauer.

And she is one of the best at digital instruction, according to Lakota officials and school parents whose children she teaches.

“In a year like no other, our teachers continue to rise to the occasion in order to meet the needs of our students,” said Betsy Fuller, spokeswoman for the 16,800-student school system.

“We have about 300 teachers who are now instructing our virtual students. Some, like Katie Bauer, teach both in-person classes and virtually,” said Fuller.

Unlike some other area school districts, Lakota officials said their VLO program is home-grown and not contracted with a digital learning company.

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“Over the summer, close to 100 Lakota teachers built a K-12 curriculum for our Virtual Learning Option. This is because we want our students to have a Lakota education taught by Lakota teachers,” she said.

Ridge Junior School parent Caroline Brace’s son is among Bauer’s VLO students.

“Mrs. Bauer has truly delivered an engaging and varied education experience. My son especially enjoys the cooperative Zooms, skits, and Kahoots learning game she employs in her classroom. He is learning a lot and told me that social studies is really fun,” said Brace.

“It melts a parent’s heart to see how engaged he is and the effort Mrs. Bauer is putting into her class,” she said.

It’s not easy, said Bauer, but her students are rising to the challenge of digital learning.

“It’s going well but it’s definitely a learning experience for teachers and students as well,” she said. “It’s really stretching our brains.”

Overall the students' mindset about learning virtually during coronavirus is good, she said.

“They are aware of it (coronavirus) but they don’t moan and groan about it,” she said. “They are patient, resilient and very responsible.”

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