REGIONAL — Private schools across southwest Minnesota are delivering learning in new ways as they comply with Gov. Tim Walz’s order to keep schools closed through April 30.

Although the executive order only applied to public and charter schools, Walz encouraged private schools to follow suit. Each of the area’s private schools has opted to remain closed for as long as the state recommends.

“We are trying to continue normal classes as much as possible,” said Amy Shirbroun, administrative assistant at Worthington Christian School.

For kindergarten through second grade, continuity at WCS comes in the form of work packets, which are exchanged periodically for new “home” schoolwork.

Older students rely more on technology to make distance learning work, Shirbroun said. Teachers can host classroom lessons through Zoom, during which everyone can join a video call together. They also use apps like EduCreations and Notability to record video lessons, which are emailed to parents.

Since WCS seventh- and eighth-graders have school-issued iPads, “they can pretty much do everything digitally,” Shirbroun said. For example, seventh-grade students are delivering book reports remotely from their iPads.

In addition to the 74 kindergarten through eighth-grade students, WCS also operates Hi-Ho Preschool. The preschool closed altogether, sending home packets that included activity recommendations for parents.

Shirbroun summarized distance learning.

"This situation has demanded quick research, proficient communication, creativity, flexibility and collaboration," she said. "I just want to applaud all of the teachers and their extra work and dedication during this time, especially those who are supervising the homeschooling of their own children while teaching others remotely."

Worthington’s St. Mary’s School is in a similar boat, said Principal Jackie Probst.

“We’re doing our best to provide an education for our students,” she said.

St. Mary’s is using a combination of paper packets, Zoom and Google Classroom to educate its 108 students from pre-K through sixth grade.

“We are trying to keep school as normal for the kids as we can,” Probst said, “because there’s nothing normal or precedented about this (pandemic).”

One of the ways St. Mary’s is achieving normality is by providing story time. Priests read stories aloud on video, and the students can watch from the school’s Facebook page.

Probst noted that school administrators keep the students and their families in prayer. She also emphasized that it’s important to follow the government’s social distancing recommendations in the interest of public health and so that children can return to school as soon as possible.

In Pipestone County, Edgerton Christian Elementary School and Southwest Christian High School are also using a mix of paper packets and technology resources.

“I’ve been pleased with how it’s gone so far,” said ECES Principal John Top.

It’s unknown exactly how long the state-mandated school closure will last, so ECES is considering how to move forward. Right now, students have packets to last through their Easter break, but if the buildings remain closed past April 30, teachers may begin delivering additional packets to students’ homes.

Top noted that distance learning may reveal ways that the overall education system could improve.

“I’m excited about what type of changes might be happening to education because of the circumstances we’ve been forced into,” he said.

Principal Jason Roslanskly of Immanuel Lutheran School in Lakefield added that for the school’s 102 pre-K through eighth-grade students, safety is a priority.

“We just want our families to be safe, to stay in the word — the same thing we would have been doing here,” he said, noting that the school does not want to add academic anxiety to the stressors families are already facing due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“We’ve got a pretty agile staff,” Roslansky said. When the governor’s order came to close schools, he added, “we just jumped right in,” immediately making packets and planning distance lessons.

If the school closure endures, Immanuel will consider an alternative report card for fourth quarter, Roslansky said.

As new information becomes available about the coronavirus pandemic, schools will continue to roll with the punches, keeping students as engaged as they can until the school closure is lifted.