Nebraska Evangelical Lutheran High School student Jinn Zhang, a sophomore from China, studies while he waits for lunch to begin. Zhang and a handful of other international students remain in NELHS dorms, unable to get home due to coronavirus issues.

WACO — It’s lunch time, but the Nebraska Evangelical Lutheran High School cafeteria is almost empty, the dorms quiet – a reality faced by many dormitory-based schools in the wake of the coronavirus.

Nebraska Evangelical Lutheran High School is one of those schools in a unique position, especially compared to other area schools. A higher number of the school’s students are from foreign countries. When COVID-19 recommendations and requirements arose, NELHS had to work quickly to get students home.

All of NELHS’s domestic students got home, as well as some of their international students. Eleven international students, however, couldn’t make it out of the country. “One student is trying to get home but can’t,” said Skip Bremer, NELHS Principal. “The lion’s share of them, the family thinks they are safer here than going through airports and traveling.”

All NELHS students – both on-campus and off -- are “maintaining a full year of study,” Bremer said. Like many schools, this is being done through web-based learning, which Bremer said is working well for both students and teachers. “Some [students] are working just as hard, just a different kind of hard. Others are putting in more effort than they did before,” he said. “The teachers are taking this and embracing it – how we can improve as professionals.”

School-wide, teaching and learning methods are similar. “The students in the dorms are doing the same thing school-wise as the domestic students,” Bremer said.

The dormitory students still residing on campus have to maintain social distancing, but still have an advantage of being around their schoolmates. Bremer said they have found ways to keep them connected. “It’s a small enough group to put them into smaller groups,” he said. Weather permitting, the remaining dormitory students have been getting outside as much as possible, including kicking around a soccer ball and going on walks. “We like it if there are outside things we can get them to,” Bremer said.

It’s these interactions –something often taken for granted – that give the remaining dormitory students more person-to-person classmate interactions than students who made it home. “It’s so important to be grateful for what we have,” Bremer said.

Plans for events like graduation are fluid. Caps and gowns were sent home with seniors; somehow, some way, graduation will be recognized and celebrated, Bremer said. “We’re going to do everything we can to make that happen.” Bremer is hopeful large enough groups will be allowed by that time the school can have a graduation service, and that those who can’t make it in-person can get involved, too. “Is there is a way we can have them electronically join us – we want to be able to take care of them,” Bremer said. Still, varied time zones could complicate things for international seniors.

Bremer and the NELHS faculty and staff remain optimistic things will work out, Bremer said.

“God wants us to be all-in for Him. Let’s just share the message that God is in control.”

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