Eliza Robertson didn't know how she was going to keep working as a special education teacher for Lakes Country Service Cooperative in Fergus Falls when the state shut down. With five kids and little time to herself, her requirement to work from home is more challenging than most. Just days before her online classes began, one Alexandria couple gave her a helping hand.
Brian and Karen Larsen donated their homemade, portable fish house to temporarily serve as Robertson’s teaching station.
"I had a friend of mine post on Facebook looking for anything that could help me," Robertson said. "I had so much anxiety because I didn't know what I was going to do. They responded, saying that I could use their ice house, and I am so grateful. I told them they could bring it to me whenever they got the chance, or I could find a way to pick it up. They brought it the next day."
Robertson teaches four special education students in the elementary grades at LCSC, a cooperative program based out of Fergus Falls that serves kids throughout its region.
"We have a collaboration with (LCSC) where they provide for students that are the most significant," said Alexandria director of student support services Michelle Bethke-Kaliher. "These students receive most of their schooling outside of a general education building. Sometimes we make referrals for students to go to their program. Other students are transitioning back into our program."
Robertson spends 45 minutes with each of her students virtually every day. But it wouldn't be possible if she didn't have a workspace separate from her home life. With five kids in the house, she needs to give her students the time and attention they require without distractions.
"When our director told us that we are going to be working from home, I panicked," Robertson said. "There was a brief time where we thought we could come into our work stations, but with the increase of COVID-19 cases, we were told to follow the governor's instructions and work from home."
Robertson and the Larsons have maintained a friendship since the transaction happened a few weeks ago. Roberston will text updates and send pictures of her new workspace to the Larsons.
"When I got the ice house, it was an ease of my spirit," Robertson said. "Once they solved that problem, I was able to run with this distance learning thing. It gave me motivation to get through this. I was so happy I took a picture hugging the fish house. I still keep in touch with the people who are letting me use it. They told me to get more sleep."
The theme of Robertson's school year with her kids is Under the Sea. Instead of leaving her theme in the classroom, she took it to the fish house. During her video chats with students, she uses props from her classroom to keep that connection with her students.
"Special education teachers are very creative," Bethke-Kaliher said. "That is something I'm seeing through distance learning. They're really thinking outside of the box in order to provide those services to their students. And that's kind of what special education is all about. They specialize in accommodations and modifications. They shine in challenging environments."
When distance learning is over or when the lakes freeze next winter, Roberston will give the fish house back to the Larsons, but she won't soon forget what they did for her in this time of need.
Just this week, Robertson worked on a clay project with her students. She sent clay home with the kids, and they worked together on screen.
"I'm a very independent person, and it wasn't easy for me to have to reach out and get this fish house," Robertson said. "If there's one thing I could say to the world right now is that positive things are happening, and we have to seek each other out in times like this."