Pandemic Brings Many Changes and Challenges for Wauwatosa Elementary Students


Daisy Lehman

McKinley Elementary School Principal Jean Hoffman stands outside an entrance to McKinley.

Daisy Lehman, Writer

Wauwatosa elementary students in junior kindergarten through fifth grade enrolled in the phase into learning model will return to five-day synchronous learning starting Jan. 6, 2021. The School Board approved this change at the request of Superintendent Dr. Phillip Ertl, who was guided by the Medical Public Health Advisory Panel. For many students, this news comes as a welcome relief, after months of hybrid and on-line learning.

“Online school is a lot of homework, instead of a teacher teaching you how to do it, you have to figure it out yourself, there’s instructions, but it’s just harder to do on the computer,” said a fourth grader at Eisenhower Elementary.

Planning and keeping students engaged has been a big challenge for teachers this Fall. The in-classroom teachers also have to learn how to work new technology, and some now are using Owl Cameras and dual monitors for distance learning.

“Lots of new tech. We all have the owl camera and it will be used if we need to do concurrent learning for any child who must remain at home due to a quarantine. It shows the room 360 and follows any voice,” said McKinley second grade teacher, Tracy Locheler.

Yet, elementary teachers have done their best to make their time at school as safe and seamless as possible.

“We had to make the staff lounge into the new health room and now the cafeteria is the place where we can have band and orchestra lessons. So, all Phy Ed classes are outside or in the classroom on inclement weather days,” said McKinley Principal Jean Hoffman, talking about the changes going on at Mckinley. She added, “Students stay in cohorts for recess, and we have only one grade level at a time. We rotate through three designated stations on the playground.”

Online learning for parents with younger kids in elementary school can be difficult to juggle and put a strain on families; yet many parents find as their students age that they are able to be more independent and need less help with assignments.

“I think fourth grade was an okay grade to be more independent in their home schooling, last year (third grade) was more difficult because they weren’t able to navigate the system so each assignment had to be guided by a parent,” added her mother, who has kids in several Wauwatosa schools.

Yet, the District has indicated that it has been a priority from the start of this year to get students back in the classrooms. Teachers and parents have a range of feelings about this decision.

“I am 100% in for full-time! There is always concern, but I feel we have many guidelines in place to keep all safe. Kids are very understanding of what is needed and haven’t fought anything,” Loechler said.

Some parents have concerns, however, “I think they’re going back at the wrong time-right after everyone’s gathered for the holidays, ” a mom with a child at McKinley said, reflecting on the upcoming District plans for January.

Another parent of two elementary students interviewed echoed these concerns. “We feel uneasy due to losing the social distancing mitigation especially with the virus being so present,” she said.

Even some students have expressed worry.

“I’m excited to go back, but the pandemic isn’t all the way over, so I don’t want to get sick and be quarantined, but I also don’t want to not go back to school,” a fourth grader at Eisenhower shared, reflecting conflicted feelings echoed by many in the District.

Yet, other parents are confident this five-day in-person school will be safe. “I believe most kids will be trustworthy and know not to be pushing the rules and schools are doing a very good job with slowing the spread and keeping a social distance, so going five days isn’t an issue,” said a McKinley elementary student parent.

Principal Hoffman and her colleagues are doing everything they can to assure parents and make this transition as safe and smooth as possible.

“Kids are switching classes, some are switching schools, because of their learning models. We had some kids in Tosa Connected, at Underwood, but they’re coming back here to concurrent with their grade. Right now it’s all kinds of logistics, and just trying to get everybody set for learning starting January 6th. It’s just a lot of moving pieces,” said Hoffman.

In addition to these adjustments, schools are also responding to the emotional needs of students on a scale never seen before.

“Parents might not be getting help they usually receive, because they don’t want to expose elderly caregivers; for instance if grandparents helped with childcare in the past, and also families could be dealing with the grief of family members who have died during this time,” said Hoffman.

Despite all of the challenges, there have been some positive aspects to remote learning. With fewer scheduled activities, some families have found that this freed them up to have to make their own fun in creative and unexpected ways.

“I have seen and heard from kids about learning to do things that they really enjoy outside of school-coming up with ideas for creating new energy, writing fabulous stories, making art out of junk, recording music videos–perhaps they will find their passions and identities earlier than in the past with a little more freedom and the ability to explore and express themselves outside of the classroom,” Hoffman said.

Even with all the challenges, Hoffman has great confidence in her students, and their ability to adapt and meet the challenges of the day.

Hoffman said, “Quarantine and isolation are words that have become daily parts of our vocabularies, but regardless of the pandemic, I still see very joyful, eager learners, whether they are in person or online. Kids are more adaptable than we sometimes think. They will find ways to learn no matter what.”