COVID-19 crisis becomes learning opportunity at KMS

Teachers in the Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg School District are using the coronavirus pandemic as a teaching tool for students by having them research ways communities came together in the past during times of crisis and how they can do the same now.

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Lily Miller, a sophomore at KMS, shows off one of the masks she made as part of her assignment in the Family and Consumer Science class. Students were asked to make cloth masks as part of their assignment and efforts to help out their community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Submitted photo

KERKHOVEN — When the world throws you a crisis, it’s best not to waste it.

That’s the view Superintendent Martin Heidelberger and the teachers at the Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg School District are taking while teaching students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shortly after schools were closed in response to the coronavirus, and the district began its distance learning program, KMS launched plans to use the unusual circumstances as a teaching tool.

“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” said Heidelberger. “Some individuals will make millions others will lose millions, however in education we make opportunities.”

Along with reading, writing and arithmetic, Heidelberger said the new three “Rs” in the age of the coronovarius are readiness, responsiveness and relief that the district is delivering through its normal curriculum.


The results have had an impact on the community today and will likely have an even deeper impact in the future.

Face masks

Knowing that local response agencies need face masks, Nicole Gleason adjusted the assignments for students in her Family and Consumer Sciences class.

She put kits together with fabric, thread and elastic that were delivered to the 18 students in the FACS class. About half the students didn’t have a sewing machine at home, so the school’s sewing machines were also loaded onto the school buses and delivered to homes.

“Their assignment was to make a couple masks every week and return them,” said Gleason. “It’s part of their grade.”

A couple students in the class went above and beyond and have made dozens of masks.

Gleason sent buttons and strips of the left-over fabric to her 21 eighth-grade students to make ear guards, which are used to prevent pressure behind the ears for people wearing masks all day long. The students were tasked with sewing on the buttons.

Gleason said the students were also required to do a little research on past efforts to pitch in for a good cause. “I had the kids look up who Rose the Riveter was and how she helped support the war effort and for them to get the idea that people stepped up to help, and this is our way of stepping up.”

Victory gardens

Christa Williamson, who teaches numerous ag-related classes and coordinates the FFA program at KMS, said each class has assignments that are tied to a “moment in history” that’s related to agriculture and how communities “band together” during time of need.


One of the lessons relates to the victory gardens of World War II, where the senior high agronomy and plant science students are planning their own gardens, with research on seed spacing and what crops will produce the most vegetables and fruit for the least investment.

The next step will be getting seeds to the students so they can actually plant their gardens.

The animal science classes are researching how livestock producers are being affected by the changing markets now and how changed their operations during WWII to see if there can be lessons learned.

Williamson’s food chemistry class is learning about using substitutes in baking when supplies are limited. For example, students have to bake a cake with a missing ingredient, like eggs, and find a substitute and write a report on the results.

Her seventh-grade students are learning about Norman Borlaug, a University of Minnesota alumni, whose research of wheat spawned the Green Revolution in the 1940s and is credited with saving millions of people from starvation. Part of their project includes dissecting a head of wheat, counting the kernels and using math to determine how many kernels are in a bushel.

They’ll then learn how the kernels become bread.

Totes with ingredients and recipes to make bread were sent out with the homework assignment. The experiment includes making the “national loaf” wheat bread that was made during WWII because it used fewer wheat kernels – but tasted really bad. They’ll also be making a loaf of white bread.

Her Ag 101 class will research different types of influenza strains and how it affects agriculture. They’ll have to look at solutions to deal with current ag issues, like farmers who are dumping milk because the market and supply chain has been affected by coronavirus.


Williamson said, as a “hands-on” teacher who’s now teaching remotely through virtual classes, she’s hoping to create lessons to give students that “ah-ha moment” and make them feel part of the solution for their community.

History in the making

Chris Pappadackis, a high school history teacher at KMS, knows that diaries and letters make excellent primary sources when researching events from the past.

That’s why he’s having his students keep journals about their experiences during the pandemic. “I want them to be writing, so five years from now or 10 years from now they’ll look and say, we really did have to stay inside.”

He said their journals “have been pretty honest” about being at home instead of at school. “They really are concerned with this pandemic, how long it’ll last and when will they get to see their friends again.”

The assignments also include looking at WWII and the posters that were used then to inspire people to save scrap metal and ration food. Students are being asked to create posters that reflect action for today during the pandemic.

“The thought process is that the living history is all around us right now,” he said. “This is stuff that’ll be in a history book at some point.”


Every year the KMS marching band puts on a stellar show for summer parades. Band director Pam Diem Director picked out the theme for this year’s performance last fall – long before there were any concerns about a pandemic that would keep people sheltering in their homes.

The one-word theme for the show is “home."


At the time, Diem said she thought it would be nice to do a show about the KMS community and “all the feels you would have at home – happy, sad, joyful – and the celebrations.”

And then the students were sent home and the theme for the show took on an even deeper meaning, she said.

“It hit me. This show is so much more than home. It’s about what’s going on,” she said.

“It stopped me dead in my tracks,” she said, noting that the theme was selected about seven months ago.

The show includes three major pieces including the popular song called “Home” by Phillip Phillips.

A second song that Diem describes as “reflective” and “hopeful,” called “Going Home,” is permanently out of print. She contacted the arranger who gave her special permission to use it.

The third piece, she said, is a fun take on the hoe-down song “Cotton Eye Joe” that shows the ag-centric community of KMS.

Students are writing about what it’s like for them to be at home and are learning the music while practicing at home.


“It’s been a neat connection that sort of just happened organically,” said Diem.

Normally the color guard and drum section would be working on their choreography and the band sections would be working on their music.

“We’ll learn it the best we can online. It is what it is,” said Diem, who is confident that, eventually, the band will perform their show called “Home.”

“At some point we’ll get to tell this story,” she said. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. We have to come out and celebrate together at some point.”

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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