This year’s back-to-school season was unlike any other. Schools across the region began the year virtually, and with many parents still working from home due to COVID-19, houses that would typically stand empty from 9 to 5 were suddenly packed. Dining rooms doubled as home offices, and playrooms were partitioned into classrooms.

Every parent has had to adapt to this new kind of school year, but some, like Michelle Hoff, have taken on an extra challenge: creating a distance learning set-up for their own children and their neighbors’.

Michelle, President of the Parshall School Board, has three children of her own: Logan (5th grade), Laken (3rd grade), and Boden (Pre-K). When her district announced that the first two weeks of school would be held virtually, Michelle set up shop—literally.

“I held ‘shop school’ for the first two weeks to help out friends in our district that were tied up with work during the school day,” Michelle said. “We live on a farm and have a shop on the farmstead. The farming crew was out farming, so the shop was available to set up tables.”

Nine students, from second graders to a high school freshman, attended Michelle’s makeshift shop school. At the beginning of every day, each student would connect with their teacher and receive instruction. They were given breaks throughout the day to stretch or step away from their computers, and at lunch, Michelle would distribute meals supplied by their schools.

Michelle had the space to accommodate all nine students in her shop; the challenge was to arrange the shop school in a way that was both safe for students and conducive to their learning.

“We had to spread the tables out from each other so they didn’t get distracted from each other, or hear the other teachers,” Michelle said. “Some students wore headphones, others chose not to and still were able to listen and hear.”

One challenge that Michelle didn’t have to worry about was providing a stable Internet connection for her shop school students.

“RTC made sure we had a great connection in the shop, which is located near the house,” Michelle said. “And we made sure our bandwidth could handle 10 or more devices going at the same time.”

Thank you, Michelle, for helping keep our local students in school during this difficult time! We asked other members of our RTC community to share their advice for creating a space where families can be comfortable and productive while working and learning from home. Here’s what they said!