Fire station as remote lecture hall

St. Maries High School Graduate Joe LaPlante is an instructor at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He has been continuing lesson plans for his cadets online due to coronavirus concerns restricting cadets and faculty from returning to the USMA.

Captain Joseph LaPlante’s spring vacation from the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point ended up longer than he thought.

Cpt. LaPlante graduated from USMA in 2010, and now teaches remotely from his hometown. Travel restrictions and school closures due to coronavirus concerns have stopped him and his family from returning to USMA in New York.

“I’ve been here in Idaho for about the last month,” Cpt. LaPlante said. “Spring break for West Point came around and the academy had sent off cadets, staff and faculty for vacation. At this time it was still the early stages of the coronavirus so things were developing very rapidly.”

“It became apparent to leadership as COVID-19 developed that it was not in the best interest of the safety of their cadets to bring everyone back,” Cpt. LaPlante said.

The academy and its instructors had to scramble for a way for its cadets to continue their classes but from a distance. Cpt. LaPlante said that the academy came up with a way to continue its courses in around four days.

He said that he wouldn’t be able to have a quiet and remote area to work if it wasn’t for the St. Maries Fire Protection District allowing him to use the O’Gara Fire Station to teach his classes out of.

“Thank you to the St. Maries Fire Protection District for their support,” Cpt. LaPlante said.

“Luckily we had the tools at our disposal. All students are issued a laptop, but we didn’t anticipate the cadets who maybe didn’t take their work home with them,” Cpt. LaPlante said. “Leaders were able to get the cadets laptops or the correct programs on a home computer so that they can do their work.”

He said that online instruction for his class can sometimes be difficult due to the open discussion format. He said that the remote learning has had its advantages for some students.

“I teach a MX 400 Officership class which is the capstone course at USMA,” Cpt. LaPlante said. “It’s everything a cadet needs to know before graduating and its a very discussion based class. It has been a challenge to carry out those discussions online. There is one mic and camera, and only one can speak at a time. I typically have 14 to 17 cadets in each class and we can’t break up into small groups.”

“There are some good parts about it though,” Cpt. LaPlante said. “Instead of talking for 75 minutes, I can shorten class and have the cadets go to a forum and type out questions. This has given cadets that are introverts a chance to engage and it has shown me that these cadets have a lot of great things to say. We are leveraging technology to some peoples strengths.”

He said that he is unsure what the academy will do when it comes time for graduation as safety is Lt. General Daryll Williams’, the superintendent of USMA, main priority.

“The superintendent’s main priority is the safety of cadets, staff and faculty,” Cpt. LaPlante said. “These cadets have worked hard for years and we want to recognize them in some shape or form.”

Apart from teaching remotely, Cpt. LaPlante said that he is glad that he still gets to be with his family while in Idaho.

“My wife and I are both from this area so it’s nice to be able to be home and be so close to family and friends,” Cpt. LaPlante said. “It is ironic because we are in the the middle of a pandemic so we have to distance ourselves at the same time.

“Its been good to be back in the area but its hard because I can’t interact with my family and friends like I want to,” Cpt. LaPlante said, “but it is nice to have my kids be able to experience a little bit of Idaho while we’re here. It’s a blessing in disguise.”

Cpt. LaPlante is a graduate of St. Maries High School class of 2006. He is the son of Mike LaPlante and Cathy and Mike Stroh.

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