SALT LAKE CITY — In the most unusual year and the most atypical start to the school year, Mother Nature threw another curveball as the Salt Lake City School District attempted to launch the school year via remote learning Tuesday.
But after hurricane-force winds and power outages across northern Utah, Salt Lake officials canceled classes about half an hour into the start of the school day.
At Parkview Elementary School, a half-dozen third graders among about 36 students were able to join Jeni Larsen’s class via Zoom. Larsen received multiple texts and calls from families informing her that their power was out and they were unable to “attend” school.
Larsen, who is entering her fifth year teaching at Parkview, said it was “definitely different” not to see her students in their desks on the first day of school.
“It’s getting more and more different, that’s for sure,” she said, as high winds and power outages disrupted the launch of the school year.
The Salt Lake City School District is the only district in Utah to start the school year via remote learning. It also delayed the start of the year by two weeks to give teachers time to pivot their classroom instruction to online formats. As rates of COVID-19 infections drop, the district plans for students and teachers to return to classrooms, at first with hybrid instruction and eventually a full return to schools.
In Larsen’s classroom, desks were pulled in neat rows with inviting bulletin boards awaiting the return of students, including one sign that said “Welcome to our ’hood.”
While there were some students in the building who receive special education services, most classrooms were empty, except for teachers leading their classes (with others working from home). The school hallways were eerily quiet.
The plan was that Larsen would teach math Tuesday morning, help students who were having difficulty connecting to the classroom midmorning and switch off with teaching partner Sandy Joley, who was prepared to teach language arts in the afternoon, working from home.
Despite the rough start, Larsen pushed on with her multiplication lesson, providing explicit instructions, frequent reminders about how to unmute microphones and dishing out lots of praise and encouragement.
Each student wore a headband with their name written on an attached rectangular piece of cardboard.
“Who can tell me, with a raised hand, what equal means?” Larsen inquired.
Using small plastic discs, whiteboard and whiteboard markers, students followed along, dividing the “counters” into equal groups.
Except for one student, who said he didn’t have his discs.
Larsen encouraged him to quickly look for them or to improvise by using noodles or even pieces of cereal, whatever was handy.
By and large, the students followed along, arranging 12 discs in six groups representing 6 x 2 = 12.
“Nice work!” Larsen said.
About 45 minutes into the school day, Larsen broke the news that school had been canceled for the rest of the day because so many students in the district had no power.
“Sadly, we’re stopping for today and we’ll start again with our lessons tomorrow,” she told the students.
If Larsen’s learned anything in 2020 — or for that matter, 13 years of teaching — it’s to roll with whatever comes.
School was also canceled in Weber and Davis counties, which got the brunt of the storm. Classes were also called off at the University of Utah and Weber State University. Salt Lake Community College canceled classes at its Library Square and Airport campuses.
Westminster College called off morning classes and shortly before noon, announced they were dismissing the remainder of the day, too.
Some of Larsen’s students seemed bewildered by the sudden halt to their first day of school.
Blame it on the wind. Blame it on COVID-19. Blame it on Mother Nature.
“The wind is getting crazy,” she said, calmly. She told her students they’ll get back to learning on Wednesday and hopefully, more of their friends will be able to join them.
“I hope you have a good day. I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said.