The coronavirus pandemic has upended school life for students, educators and parents in many different ways. For technology aide Janet Pranger, it’s changed her job entirely.
“It’s a different situation this year,” she said. “This year I’m reaching every virtual student that needs a little assistance.”
Pranger took a job in Benton schools 15 years ago to help teachers provide remediation through the school’s enrichment lab.
“It was targeted for students that do not do well on the ACT Aspire test,” she said. “They would place them in that class for a period for help in math and various other subjects that they needed help with as well.”
The district shifted away from the lab, to homeroom advisory periods,and last spring, the technology aide’s position was radically redefined when schools closed down to keep students safe during the pandemic.
“Now I call the homes of virtual students to convey messages to them whether it is they need to show up at a certain time for a test or if they are missing work,” she said. “If they’re making zeroes, or they’re earning Fs in a class, I call and I let their parents in on it.”
Pranger says the early shutdown in Spring caught everyone unprepared, and she, along with other Education Support Professionals were tasked with transferring students’ paperwork into virtual assignments.
“The fourth nine weeks last year we weren’t that well equipped because it happened so suddenly,” she said. “Some things came in on paper because students simply couldn’t handle the virtual. We’re better equipped this year for virtual learning.”
ESPs also worked over the summer to distribute devices so students would be more prepared for a virtual shift due to the spread of the coronavirus.
“We really didn’t quit working this year, to be honest,” she said. “We didn’t have much of a summer break because of the work required throughout the year.”
When students returned in the Fall, Pranger says a good number went the virtual route, but as time went on, more and more kids came back to the classroom. She says the first semester was rocky as parents and students settled into a work from home routine and she adjusted to the new role.
“I would call and the parents really didn’t know who I was,” she said. “I was in the classroom before with a very small number of students.”
Additionally, some parents aren’t happy to hear their child has missing assignments or failing grades. However, kids do have the opportunity to work onsite during the district’s virtual Fridays. On those days, Pranger is well suited to help, with a degree in secondary math education and a minor in social studies. Though she trained to be a teacher she left the profession before she really got started.
“When I first graduated college, I was placed in a tough, tough school,” she said. “I didn’t really like it. I backed away from teaching, married and had children.”
As memories of that first job in Lubbock, Texas faded, and her kids grew, she began substituting.
“I was older and I realized I had learned a lot over the years about how to handle teenagers and I had some of my own,” she said. “I felt better equipped then and I started loving teaching as I thought I would at the beginning.”
In addition to her phone call duty, Pranger is also back to subbing, helping out in any way the district needs.
“I love going to work,” she said. “I look forward to it even though it’s different.”