Back to School (sort of)

“There definitely was no training in how to teach during a pandemic in my teaching certification program, so we were building the plane as we flew it.” Lori Bopp – Kootenai Elementary First Grade teacher.

As students return (sort of) to school this week, we wanted to paint a picture of what it looks from a 360-degree perspective. Having had the opportunity to chat with teachers, school leadership, parents, and students about their experiences teaching and learning during a pandemic, we’ve discovered heroic efforts and small surprises along the way.

Here is a look behind the “scenes.”

Teachers are working hard to adapt to meet the needs of students.

No surprise there, our teachers are first and foremost concerned about their connection to their students. In that vein, they have become YouTubers, tutors to grandparents, and driveway teachers.

Emily Norton, a kindergarten teacher at Kootenai Elementary School, among so many other teachers, knew no other way than to start a YouTube channel. She didn’t know how else to reach her students.

“I found I was getting 8 views. And I have 19 kids. So where were my other 10 or 11 kids? Were they working with their parents or were they too busy?”

Fifth-grade teacher Abby Liesy: “I was trying to give them math assignments and hoping they would learn it. I had students who weren’t able to do it and their parents couldn’t teach them the math so I offered up my driveway. Bring your math book, come to my driveway, and we’ll sit and learn.”

Michelle Blumenberg teaches kids with special needs. She spent hours helping a student’s grandfather understand how to use the technology so that child could access the classwork. “Some of our students count on us for more than things like learning. They count on us for breakfast and primary care. I didn’t have all the answers parents needed and that’s the role I tend to play.”

You can listen to their stories in our YouTube series Teaching in a Pandemic.

Parents weren’t trained to be teachers.

Mahle Williams has Finley (6) and Knox (11). At first, the kids were excited about school closure. Who wouldn’t be? It’s exciting and new. But she quickly found it took some work to find a routine that was effective. At first, she attempted to be structured and organized. “That does not work for us,” she said. “Kids need to get outside before they think about learning. We needed to find the flexibility that satisfied everyone.”

Alice Sloane, a sales manager at Litehouse found herself googling how to do nine-year-old math. Her daughter has an IEP (Individual Education Plan) to help her with dyslexia so she has special sessions which require more one on one attention. She couldn’t just download the workbook and do the work. She needed someone to walk her through it. Alice would step away from her work from home to spend time as much as possible but is thankful for teachers like Mrs. Garrison and Mrs. Sykes for their ability to spend time with her. Meanwhile, her older daughter Charlotte, typically an outgoing and social girl, was resistant to learning.

“It was really stressful at first because we had to do everything and then I said, “they’ll be fine.”

Students like school more than they have been letting on

Our next generation is tech-savvy and connected to each other online. They are still missing the structure, encouragement, and even discipline from their teachers. Sports and playtime with friends is something they long for.

Genevieve McGrann said her kids miss the in-person interaction and in particular, playing in sports.

What did some of the students say?
Sixth-grader Knox misses Ms. Shea because she believes in him. Logan misses Ms. Mackeage because she encourages him to do more than he thought he could do.

Watch this video to see more:

School leadership is working hard to create a plan that keeps everyone safe and on track.

Everyone is doing their best.
What we do know is that settling for less than perfect will have to do right now. Everything is going to be alright. There is no other option. If it’s not ok, its because the story isn’t over yet.

In the meantime, this community is doing what it can to help those families who don’t have the luxury to take time off work, who don’t have access to the internet, and who rely on free and reduced lunch. They are the numbers Ms. Norton mentions when she says 9 of her 18 students are showing up for her YouTube lessons. Those numbers are real people who need our help.
Your donations to PAFE help us support the school district in their Back on Track Plan which helps to meet students’ social-emotional needs and teachers’ professional development needs.

Looking for more ways to help? Here are other organizations helping with food and computers:


  • IBE Thank you Idaho Business for Education for their initiative to get students devices. You can learn more here.
  • LPOSD Meal program.
  • Take-home art kits.
  • Full-day Kindergarten – thanks to PAFE donors, grants, and the school district, full-day kindergarten tuition has been waived this year.