Homeward Bound

Homeward Bound 

When safety protocols dictated social distancing, everyday sanctuaries like schools and offices were suddenly off-limits. Students and professionals alike were forced to adapt to a new routine: learning and working online.  

Strong and reliable internet connections helped both successfully navigate these unfamiliar waters.  

Learning the Ropes Remotely 

Jesse and Kelsey Fonkert learned the ropes at new jobs while working remotely.

Working from home when you’re used to going into the office every day can be tricky even for those who have years of experience in their present positions. When you’re new to the role, it’s even more difficult. Jesse and Kim Fonkert can attest to this. The Hartford couple both started new jobs in 2020, and each found themselves working remotely while still learning the ropes.  

Jesse accepted the role as President/CEO of Sioux Metro Growth Alliance in February and started on April 1 — just as the pandemic was gathering steam and offices were closing down. The position serves 13 communities around Sioux Falls, including Dell Rapids and Hartford. 

“It’s tough starting a job in the middle of a pandemic, especially when you serve more than one municipality,” Jesse says. “Part of the job is knowing your stakeholders. Since we couldn’t meet in person, I did a lot of videoconferencing with a bunch of folks that I serve. It was tough to really understand the job that I was supposed to be doing.” 

Kelsey’s situation wasn’t all that different from her husband’s. She was still getting the hang of things when her employer, Vervent Card in Lake Lorraine, mandated employees work from home.  

“I started my job in January 2020, so I was in the office doing my role for about two months,” Kelsey says. “Then we got sent home to work in March. The hardest part was making connections with people and not being able to easily ask questions of coworkers because you weren’t in the office. You had to place phone calls or try to schedule a time.”  

Other than an occasional day here and there, neither had ever worked from home before. They feel fortunate to have good service through Golden West. Both were able to access important files in the cloud and relied on Zoom calls to meet with colleagues and constituents. 

“Thankfully, our fiber connection is incredibly stable and strong,” Jesse says. “It allowed us both to work from home and do the best work we could under the circumstances.”  

They discovered another important benefit to working from home.  

“The short commute when your office is in your house is nice!” Kelsey admits.  

Online Instruction Requires Motivation 

The pandemic forced students like Kaylee M. of Pine Ridge to adapt to distance learning.

Students also found themselves in unfamiliar territory when COVID-19 forced schools to shift to remote learning. For Kaylee M., who just finished her junior year at Lakota Tech High School in Pine Ridge, the move to online instruction was especially jarring since the school had just opened its doors a few months earlier.  

“It was pretty much halfway through the school year when they shifted to remote,” Kaylee recalls. “I was iffy about it because I’m a hands-on learner and I’d rather be face-to-face. It’s easier to learn that way.”  

Despite her initial skepticism, Kaylee eventually got used to remote instruction. She credits Lakota Tech with keeping students and parents in the loop as the situation evolved.  

“There was a lot of communication,” she says, “and I finally got the hang of it.”  

The school also helped motivate students through online quizzes and games. Like many high school students, Kaylee values strong social connections. Unable to meet with friends in person, she and her classmates got together online and did their assignments as a group


“We usually had the same schedule or classes,” she said. “So, I was like, OK guys, let’s all get together and help each other out during this class. We’d all be together on the computer doing our work.” 

This allowed them to combat distractions and stay focused. It also held everybody accountable.  

Kaylee acknowledges there were some positive aspects to online learning. Thanks to strong Wi-Fi and internet, she was able to do schoolwork wherever it was convenient. 

“A good thing with online is, you can bring your computer and hop on anywhere,” Kaylee says. “I wasn’t going to school, but I was still in class.” 

Nevertheless, Kaylee was ready to return to in-person learning for her senior year. She is passionate about playing volleyball and may apply for student council. Long-term, she plans to attend college and hopes to work as a flight nurse or trauma nurse, with the eventual goal of becoming a doctor and helping those on the reservation.  

Her immediate focus is understandably simpler.  

“I’m excited that I’m graduating!” 


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