Anna Benson’s students didn’t understand why they had to keep their distance and not hug her at the curbside pickup site Wednesday, March 25, at Lewis and Clark Elementary School.

They had to settle for air hugs and high-fives from afar.

The school’s music specialist, who teaches children in kindergarten through fifth grade, said “primarily our little people have heard about (the coronavirus pandemic) but don’t understand why I can’t have my teacher.”

“It’s very emotional, both ways,” said Benson, who spent much of Wednesday with other Lewis and Clark staff greeting parents and students, and delivering bags with personal items and learning materials for children to use when they start learning at home next week.

“We love our kids; we support our kids,” she said. “They’re very important to us, more than from a learning perspective. They’re important to us on a relational level, very much.”

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EMBED: Lewis & Clark drive-thru, curbside pick up

In reaction to the pandemic, Gov. Doug Burgum has ordered the closure of all schools indefinitely, and for distance learning to officially begin Wednesday, April 1.

Teachers and other staff in the Grand Forks School District have been scrambling to prepare a distance learning plan, including how they’ll deliver education remotely to the more than 7,000 students. On Wednesday, every child in kindergarten through fifth grade in the district was issued “some kind technology piece,” Benson said. Children in grades 2-5 received Chromebooks and those in kindergarten and first grade received an iPad, she said.

“We’ve had quite a few curve balls thrown at us,” she said, such as questions about whether the devices will upload properly, because of varying ages of the devices. But the distribution plan, “for what we were expecting, it went fairly well.”

The Lewis and Clark staff members “work so well together,” Benson said. “We’re a pretty good team; we help each other out. We do what we can to get the kids the tools they need to learn.”

Parents were asked to drive up at designated times to prevent traffic congestion.

“We tried to do it as much by grade and by class as we could, so it wasn’t such a hodge-podge,” said Benson, who’s in her eighth year working in the district.

She described the reactions she observed as “really a mixture,” she said.

The children were “excited to get a device, and really excited to learn and react to their teachers,” she said. “They’ve been very isolated.”

Parents are “very grateful” to receive the devices, but some “are concerned about how education is going to look,” she said. “It’s stressful. They’re wondering, is my kid going to be able to keep up?”

Benson and other staff are reassuring parents that “it’s all a process; we’re going to educate their child with tools that we have.”

And for staff, it is “kind of sad that this may be the way the school year will end this year,” Benson said. “We had so many wonderful things planned for this spring. Now we have to change to fit the situation.”

But she and her colleagues are rising to the challenge of providing a home-based education.

“We want to make learning as applicable and exciting as we can,” she said. “We want it to be as positive an experience as we can make it.”

To ease the distribution process, Gate City Bank has donated 7,000 reusable canvas tote bags to Grand Forks public schools.

“Area school systems originally made the request for Gate City Bank’s blue bags when they realized how challenging it would be for students to haul so many supplies home,” said Dain Sullivan, senior content consultant, Fargo. Another 8,000 bags were donated to Fargo schools, he said.

The distribution process went “very smoothly,” said Kelli Tannahill, principal at Lewis and Clark, which enrolls 191 students and has 64 staff members.

“We didn’t treat it as a ‘good-bye’ today,” said Tannahill. “We treated it as ‘get ready for the next stage of learning’.”

Students are excited for the opportunity to have face-to-face exposure, through technology, with their teachers, she said. “That’s reassuring to families and kids.”

Parents who were unable to receive items at the school Wednesday may contact the school to arrange for “doorstep delivery” at their homes, Tannahill said.

The drive-thru process -- for students to receive things such as devices and musical instruments, if needed -- will be repeated Thursday, March 26 at Grand Forks Central and Red River high schools.

Parents and students should check with their respective school for exact locations and designated times for curbside pick up.

As a public service during the coronavirus pandemic, the Herald has opened this article to all readers, regardless of subscription status.