As the 2020-2021 school year nears an end, many schools across the country have grappled with an unusual year.
Some students spent their year learning through a screen. Others sat at desks spaced six feet apart.
Most of these COVID-19 precautions won’t be missed, but this one that might be.
At noon on Friday at the Lac du Flambeau Youth Center, clusters of students bend over bowls of wild rice and pages of schoolwork.
“I come here and do everything I missed from the last week,” said Tristan Poupart, a tribal student at Lakeland Union High School
Poupart is at the Youth Center for Remote Friday.
It’s a practice the school adopted in response to the challenges of COVID-19.
After a quarter of pandemic schooling, teachers felt overwhelmed trying to teach some students in-person and others online at the same time, and students learning remotely sometimes needed an opportunity to connect with teachers face-to-face.
So the school came up with a solution – every other Friday, regular classes are cancelled, and instead, teachers and students spend their day meeting one-on-one, making up classwork and preparing for upcoming lessons.
Fred Maulson, a Native American mentor who works with students at LUHS, said the idea for Remote Fridays started as a way to help students succeed academically at a time when learning sometimes looked and felt a lot different.
“Probably, most every kid out there has tried the remote setting. In some fashion, it impacted their ability to function in a way that their education was hindered,” he said.
When the school launched Remote Fridays, Maulson said it made sense to host them at the Lac du Flambeau Youth Center.
It’s a place where tribal students can learn in a familiar space, surrounded by familiar people.
“It’s in their home setting,” he said.
As a result, kids like Poupart are doing really well with this time.
“Some kids here will work four or five hours here, whereas in the classroom [their teacher] couldn’t get anything out of them for a week,” Maulson said.
By supporting these students’ whole well-being, they’re performing better in school, and Maulson said, that’s exactly the intention of Remote Fridays.
However, not everyone thinks Remote Fridays are especially helpful.
Sharon Follensbee, an English teacher at the high school, said Remote Fridays are good for students who choose to meet with teachers and make up work, but not everyone participates.
“Remote Fridays are kind of a mixed bag,” she said. “It’s a really good chance to get caught up with kids. It’s a good chance to see kids that I only get to interact with over a screen sometimes. But it can also be a little bit of an interruption in the learning week.”
Follensbee said she enjoys the opportunity to meet her students in a space that belongs to them.
Without Remote Fridays, she wouldn’t be able to do that.
But there’s pressure to return to a full schedule with classes five days a week, so she’s doubtful remote Fridays will be around for much longer.
Tristan Poupart hopes that’s not the case. He likes learning outside of the classroom.
“I don’t really like to do work in school,” he said. “So having this here with the teachers works with me. It works with a lot of other people.”
Either way, after a year of disrupted education, Remote Fridays offered students and teachers alike valuable lessons.