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Teachers statewide collaborate to navigate challenges of online learning amid coronavirus outbreak

"Like the biggest group project you've ever been a part of." A collaboration of teachers proves it's not just the students who are learning online.

GLENBURN, Maine — Virtual learning: it's something many teachers, students, and parents have been forced to be familiar with by now. Teachers from elementary, middle, and high schools across the state have had to dive in headfirst.

However, when it comes to the challenges they all face, they say it's like one big group assignment.

"I am a little bit of a tech dinosaur," said Nick Stahl, a science teacher at Hermon High School.

Whether they were ready or not, teachers like Nick Stahl have had to activate online learning.

"My social media footprint two weeks ago was a Facebook account and a Hotmail e-mail address, and now I've got a Google classroom up and running with six different classes," he said.

Utilizing different apps and tools is challenging enough, now add to that helping students get through this unprecedented time.

So educators are also turning to the internet to connect with other teachers about the challenges they face.

"You know [we're] trying to find a balance between the fact that we are living through future history lessons and there's opportunity to pull this in but also being mindful of what is appropriate for our kids so that they don't get traumatized more," said Natalee Stotz, a high school history, English, Latin, and theology teacher at Windham Christian Academy.

Jenny Stahl at the Glenburn School found a way to navigate that with her young students.

"I left them a prompt saying you are living through a future 4th grade 5th-grade history lesson right now. So I'd like you all to write a first-hand account. Really it's just a journal they type up on their Google doc or journal that they share with me," Stahl said.

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However, not all students have the technology available to them. There are students who are learning English and some who are homeless.

"They don't have those extra adults around them right now to help them," said Chris Pirkle, a 6th and 7th English Language Arts teacher at King Middle School in Portland.

In Portland, the school department's website includes coronavirus information resources with translations for French, Somali, Portuguese, and more. 

In a letter to parents, Portland's superintendent, Xavier Botana said the crisis required the school department "to launch a massive experiment in homeschooling with little time to prepare."

He went on to write, "virtual learning cannot replace the everyday experience of being in school, particularly for our least advantaged students, including our students with disabilities, students who are English language learner (ELL) students and who are homeless. However, everyone at PPS is committed to providing students with the best learning experience possible under these unprecedented circumstances. I ask for your cooperation and support as we strive to be an educational constant for our students during this difficult time."

There is one challenge teachers everywhere are facing. And that's figuring out how to keep a connection.

"We build community in our classrooms," said Natalee Stotz. 

But they are in this together. 

"That's been the definite silver lining. There's been an explosion of collaboration," said Nick Stahl.

A collaboration of teachers, proving it's not just the students who are learning online.

"Like the biggest group project you've ever been a part of."

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At NEWS CENTER Maine, we're focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the illness. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: /coronavirus

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