- Associated Press - Monday, April 15, 2019

GENOA, Neb. (AP) - An eastern Nebraska district crafted an emergency plan involving an alternative school, and it video-streamed classes when flooding cut off students and teachers from their classrooms.

The flooded Loup River battered dams, bridges and roads last month, splitting the Twin River Public Schools district in two.

Many students and teachers in the district that serves Genoa, Silver Creek and Monroe are isolated from their schools as two main river crossings have become impassable indefinitely. The typical 10-minute drive between Silver Creek and Genoa now calls for a maze of detours and muddy back roads that can take about 75 minutes.

The historic floods have caused an estimated $1.4 billion in damage across Nebraska, drawing federal disaster assistance.

Superintendent John Weidner Sr. said the district couldn’t wait months for the floodwaters to recede so crews could repair the damage. He said administrators quickly hatched a plan to direct students and teachers stranded north of the Loup River to a Genoa school, while those south of the floods would report to an underused elementary school in Silver Creek.

Teachers were trained to deliver lessons though video conferencing, while some swapped roles with their counterparts living in the towns that they formerly commuted to. Teachers email tests and communicate with students by Facebook and text messaging.

“We had to do something to get the school up and running again,” Weidner said. “We thought we could pull this off.”

A main highway splitting the towns isn’t expected to reopen until next fall, so the district plans to salvage the remaining weeks of the 2018-2019 school year through the virtual classes.

Kirk Hebda, a 13-year-old student who is attending the alternative school in Silver Creek, said the distance learning can make certain classroom interactions difficult.

Kirk said “in some classes it’s harder than others to learn what the teacher’s teaching.”

“Like in math, you can’t interrupt his lesson to ask him questions,” he said. “And in art right now, we’re working with paint. You have to mix paint. So you don’t know if you have the right color or not that the teacher wants.”

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