Outbreak forces teachers to reach students virtually

From Parker, educators conduct classes for Chinese students

Nick Puckett
npuckett@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 2/18/20

Jack and Laura Kriss consider themselves night school teachers for the time being. At 5 p.m. in one corner of the Douglas County Library in downtown Parker, the Krisses set up two laptops in study …

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Outbreak forces teachers to reach students virtually

From Parker, educators conduct classes for Chinese students

Posted

Jack and Laura Kriss consider themselves night school teachers for the time being.

At 5 p.m. in one corner of the Douglas County Library in downtown Parker, the Krisses set up two laptops in study chairs facing a window with a view of the mountains. Coffee in tow and snacks peeking out from a bag, the Krisses dug in for another night Feb. 12 of teaching stranded students in their homes in China and across the globe.

“If it weren't for the coronavirus, we would've been on a plane Feb. 6 and back in China and classes would've started Feb. 10,” Jack Kriss said. “The virus has put us in a virtual environment. Our students are quarantined in their houses and we're here and we're able to work with them virtually.”

Since Feb. 10, the Krisses have led virtual classrooms with their collective 800-some middle- and high school-aged students in Beijing, China, to ensure they don't fall behind their peers. Both have full teaching schedules still — Jack teaches computer science for international baccalaureate students, Laura teaches middle school science courses. They teach at the library until it closes at 9 p.m. Then they'll go home to finish the rest of their courses until 12:30 a.m.

“It's almost like being in a classroom, but we're just not physically together,” Jack Kriss said.

The school is English-only, and the Krisses don't speak Mandarin. Students are able to translate questions in real time to stay engaged with a lesson.

The Chinese government has banned people from meeting in groups larger than three people in attempts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, a respiratory illness similar to SARS that has killed almost 1,400 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. China has almost 15,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

The Krisses are international educators who teach an American-style curriculum to students all over the world. The couple have taught in places like Germany, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates since 2006. They arrived in Beijing in August to begin teaching at the Beijing Bilingual International Academy (BBIA).

When not abroad teaching, the two live in Parker. They returned to the U.S. Jan. 17 during the Chinese New Year celebration and planned to return to China Feb. 6. The coronavirus continued to spread in China. Their flight was pushed back to Feb. 14. United Airlines at some point canceled their flight back altogether. Jack Kriss said United Airlines won't be making trips to China likely until April.

“Because of everybody's use of technology, everybody's picked up on it smoothly,” Jack Kriss said.

The students of BBIA have few options to continue their education, especially during a crisis that prohibits group meeting. The semester was scheduled to reconvene Feb. 17. Students who willingly leave the public-school system in China are not allowed to reenroll at another Chinese public school. Private schools are the last option for many students.

The students each join a Microsoft Teams video chatroom where Jack and Laura conduct their courses. Falling behind for Jack's IB students is particularly difficult for the kids, who need to take IB exams regularly to keep up with their international peers. Not all students are from China and they have to call in from their homes throughout the world. Jack Kriss said 10% of his students are not from China.

Jack Kriss said he doesn't want the students to fall behind. In an increasingly competitive international education landscape, every day out of the classroom can be harmful to a student's education.

“There's a human side to this experience. There are children, parents, families who are not much different than any of us, who have been affected very negatively from this experience,” Jack Kriss said. “The education environment isn't any different than what we see here in our own home. It's a different culture, but they're the same as us. They're human beings. They should have the opportunity to learn, continue growing and continue doing things in an international world and not be isolated or closed out.”

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