Sibley Dunbar is a senior at Proctor High School this year. She has two twin brothers who are in third grade in the school district. Sibley is currently in distance learning while her brothers are in hybrid. Both of their parents work full-time jobs, so Sibley finds herself helping teach her brothers when they need it.
“They are able to read and do basic math, but they’re still struggling,” Sibley said.
This is just one example of the impact COVID-19 has made on education.
“I have family friends who have kindergartners in the district and they’re calling their parents at work because they don’t know how to write their E’s or because they can’t figure out how to read or they don’t know what 2 plus 2 is yet,” Sibley said.
She said it’s also hard for parents, who after working a long day come home and have to help teach their children basic things. It can get frustrating.
“This is a huge developmental time for these children in their education and they’re missing out on what we all were able to have,” Sibley said.
Middle and high school students in Proctor are currently in distance learning, where they have synchronous learning twice a week. During synchronous learning times, students will spend a half-hour on Google Meet video conferencing with each of their teachers and half of their classmates. Then there is time in the afternoon for students to have one-on-one meetings with their teachers for extra help.
"I might be the blue-hair punk, but I do care about my education."
— Sibley Dunbar, Proctor High School Senior
Sibley said she believes this has not only been hard on her, but all students. Proctor secondary students have not had an in-person class since March.
“At the beginning of the year, our school district was eligible to begin in a hybrid model like other schools in the area, but out of an abundance of caution they chose to have the upper grades in distance learning. We appreciate their concern for our safety deeply, but now we’re having different problems,” Sibley said. “Kids are falling behind, parents and families are stressed, mental health is really taking a toll, students are having internet issues, our quality of education is suffering and we need to find a better way.”
To get student voices heard by the district and community, Sibley organized an "Education for All March" on Monday. Nearly 50 students and parents marched from Bay View Elementary to Proctor High School.
“I might be the blue-hair punk, but I do care about my education,” Sibley said.
As the students marched about 1.5 miles Monday afternoon, they chanted along the way.
“We miss our teachers!”
“School is cool!”
“Make some noise! Give us a choice!”
Kimmie and Carlie Blevins, a senior and freshman, respectively, said they decided to participate in the march because they are passionate about their education.
“I’m just not learning as well online,” Carlie Blevins said. “It’s harder to focus and you don’t get the connection with other classmates and teachers we should get.”
The Blevins and Sibley both understand current COVID-19 case numbers don’t allow for secondary students in the Duluth area to be in hybrid or in person, so if the district can’t make that happen, they would at least like more virtual time with their teachers.
The Duluth area, which includes Hermantown and Proctor, has had two weeks of the 14-day case rate per 10,000 residents above 30, with this week’s numbers, released on Thursday, expected to stay above 30. The Minnesota Department of Education guidance says if the 14-day case rate is above 30, secondary students should be in distance learning and elementary students should be in hybrid.
“Proctor is staffed with some absolutely amazing teachers and we’re not getting enough time with that and we miss them so much,” Sibley said. “The teachers have done an absolutely incredible job with the standard they were given, but it would definitely be better if we got a little more time with them.”
When the students arrived at Proctor High School, they were greeted by high school Principal Tim Rohweder and middle school Principal Joe Krasselt. The two principals talked to the students and listened to what they had to say.
“It was bittersweet,” Krasselt said of seeing the students march up to the school Monday afternoon. “It was great to see our students again and it was very humbling to see their leadership in action, but at the same time it’s tough when our students are not satisfied yet with what we’re doing.”
The students expressed their concerns to the principals of only getting an hour with each teacher a week and wanting more. Krasselt told the students changes with the schedule might actually be something the district can put into action.
“We have a leadership team here at the school where we can sit down and look at that schedule and see how we can make that happen,” Krasselt told the News Tribune. “It’s just a matter of getting the right people at the table, and the students today, they put themselves in a seat at the table, so they did a really great job.”