Distance learning is a chance for Osakis schools to get by during the COVID-19 pandemic without having to cancel classes. However, some students are having a more difficult time than others. That's where school resource officers step in.

Mark Grinstead is one of the resource officers in Osakis. He’s a substitute teacher in the classroom several times a week when he's not giving a helping hand as part of law enforcement. His involvement in the school has naturally allowed him to build relationships with students.

"I'll hang out around the lunchroom and hop into classrooms here and there," Grinstead said. "We are there to be available as a resource and let the kids now that we are there for them as human beings. The kids come to me very casually. A lot of the kids have my number that they can call if anything comes up and I get a lot of calls when I'm off duty."

With schools around the state closing their doors in March, the interactions between facility and students are almost entirely virtual. Classes have moved to online platforms, and face-to-face time with teachers and classmates happens in a video chat.

While many kids in Douglas County are thriving in the online classroom, others are falling behind. While the teachers are doing all they can to keep their students on the right track, sometimes they need extra support.

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"I meet with the school officials every Thursday for a mental health meeting," Grinstead said. "Whether it's bad grades or a kid that's been missing in action for three weeks and the teachers can't get ahold of them, I will try to make contact with them. Typically I have some sort of relationship with the student already. If there is some sort of crisis or home issue that affects them in school, I already know about it."

Grinstead has had a busy time with home visits over the last two months. In April, there were 20 documented instances where a resource officer needed to visit a home about a student failing classes.

Osakis Public School is grateful for the time that Grinstead is sharing with their students. In a letter to the City Council, the school board chair, Becky Hensley, expressed her gratitude towards Grinstead.

Grinstead not only checks on how a student's schoolwork is coming along but sometimes he's at home for a wellness visit. Mental health is a concern for Osakis Public School.

What's it going to take?

Showing up for a student is half the battle. Grinstead's real challenge lies in getting the students to turn their school year around.

"What I try and do is find what the weak spot in a kid is and try to appeal to it," Grinstead said. "Say a kid usually plays baseball in the spring, and he keeps his grades up to play, but now he doesn't see the need to do well in school. I try to get to him and let him know that he won't be eligible to play football in the fall. Boom, their grades turn around quickly so they can play."

Finding what motivates kids would be hard for someone that doesn't spend a lot of time in the school. Grinstead's time and attention to the kids when there isn't a global pandemic is helping him change the direction of students.

"Browerville contacted Osakis to see how we were doing, and our failure rates were much lower than theirs," Grinstead said. "They contributed it to me going out and tracking kids down and finding a way for them to succeed at home. Now Browerville has their liaison going out to do house visits."

One of the big disconnects with failing students and their school work is the dishonesty with their parents. Grinstead said that some parents of the failing kids didn't know about their grades until Grinstead showed up.

"We had one kid that was 45 lessons behind," Grinstead said. "Mom didn't know about it, and she was upset with her kid, which is a good thing because that means she cares. Other times I'm asked not to contact the parents because of some difficulties with home life."

While distance learning is a struggle for teachers, Grinstead admires the hard work they are putting in to keep most of their students on track.

"If a kid is failing, it's not the school's fault," Grinstead said. "They understand that there are going to be connectivity issues, but the school offers packets as a backup plan. I keep telling them to ride their bike down to the school and pick up a packet if they can't get online. I've heard every excuse in the book, and the school has an answer for them."

Like many teachers and students, Grinstead is looking forward to being back in the school and interacting with the Silverstreaks. However, he believes there is a silver lining to come out of distance learning.

"I think more parent involvement is nice," Grinstead said. "I think they recognize how hard teachers have it. I've seen a lot of funny memes on Facebook about how teachers deserve a million dollars a week and how they aren't going to argue about getting school supplies anymore. I think this is creating a better family function because of more time at home. Kids and parents recognize strengths and weaknesses with each other."