Family trips and summer vacations have undergone dramatic alterations—or have been downright canceled—because of COVID-19.

But thanks to “Notebooking Through the United States,” a virtual summer school class at Madison Elementary School, students are still exploring other states.

They recently visited the Houston Zoo and Dinosaur Valley State Park through virtual tours and watched a rodeo for the lesson on Texas.

“Notebooking” is one of about 20 courses the Janesville School District is offering via the virtual learning platform SeeSaw this summer. The district typically offers close to 100 classes in a traditional summer.

In the past, the state Department of Public Instruction allowed virtual summer school classes only for grades 7-12, but the agency expanded those opportunities to younger students because of the pandemic.

About 1,350 students are participating in Janesville’s summer school program—about half the enrollment of a typical summer school.

Summer school Director Paul Stengel said the district wanted to have some version of summer school for kids after an unusual school year.

“We just wanted to keep our kids connected throughout the summer and have them stay engaged in their learning,” he said.

The virtual focus became easier because students were allowed to keep their electronic devices over the summer, Stengel said.

Each school conducts summer school differently.

Kennedy Elementary offers individual courses. Madison is in the midst of a travel study. Van Buren has a theme of mind, body and soul. Teachers post lessons each morning, and students complete the work on their own time.

Four courses are available to high-schoolers along with credit recovery, which students typically complete online under a teacher’s supervision.

Adrian Farris teaches a virtual nature course for elementary students. Kids go on hikes each day near their homes and complete lessons ranging from leaf symmetry to comparing man-made and nature-made items. After the hike, they share their observations online.

“It gives them a chance to get outside,” said Farris, who thinks the class is going well.

“We weren’t sure going in if we would even have summer school, but it was nice to see enough kids show interest to support the program,” he said. “I’m glad that there’s a format for kids to do something educational and have a focus for at least a little bit of their day.”

High school athletes have a chance to stay focused, too.

Coaches are teaching a virtual speed, strength and athletics course this summer. Students are given a workout each day with instructional videos, and those without access to equipment are given body-weight workouts.

Mike Fuhrmann, who teaches part of the course, said the virtual aspect made some workouts more challenging. On the plus side, it has allowed teachers to discuss other qualities that are prized in athletes: leadership, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and good mental health.

“Our big goal through all of this is to try and take advantage of the opportunity this year to give kids a more well-rounded look at being an athlete,” he said.

Fuhrmann said he has been able to get to know students as people instead of just athletes, thanks to the expanded course dialogue.

He thinks the changes to life and summer school will be a learning experience for all students.

“It’s really different not seeing the kids, and not being able to see the gains can be a difficult portion,” Fuhrmann said. “But I’ve enjoyed being able to expand the whole idea of what makes an athlete.

“… We miss that personal, face-to-face interaction with the kids, for sure, but we’re trying to do what we can with the situation we’re in, and I think that’s an important lesson for the kids to try to make the best out of any situation they’re in, too.”