On Monday, a new normal for many of the valley schools occurred. With the governor’s directive last week to close all schools to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic, the schools were left trying to figure out how to continue educating students.
Lone Rock superintendent Scott Stiegler said they began to consider the idea for distance learning a week ago, on Friday, March 13. Then, on Monday, March 16, the Lone Rock staff met and began working to identify what needed to be done and how to do it. All of the departments were involved in the planning, including teachers, para professionals and special education educators.
“It was hard to digest everything at one time,” said Stiegler.
Stiegler said that as a result of the Friday meeting, most of his staff had a plan. They are using Zoom and Google Docs platforms for the teachers to do their instruction and interactions with the students. The district has enough Chrome books for the students in the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. The staff spent the day preparing packets for the 195 students in the district and by Tuesday morning, the packets were ready to go.
A week ago Wednesday, at 7 a.m., the packets were being handed out. The teachers, who took three- or four-hour shifts handing out the packets, worked until 7 p.m. in order to reach those who didn’t get home until later. By the end of the day, all but about four packets had been picked up.
The district, as with any other public school district, must, by law, provide special ed instruction to those in need. Stiegler said they have set up para professionals and teachers with distance learning platforms as well and are reaching out to the families of these students.
Because they began work on this issue early, Stiegler feels they are ahead of the game. “We’ve had a chance to flesh out our system and fix problems.”
The Lone Rock School, as well as other schools in the valley, has been involved with the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) for two years. This program, administered by the Office of Public Instruction School Nutrition Programs, provides free, nutritious meals and snacks throughout the summer when school is out.
“This week it was easy to roll over to that program,” said Stiegler.
The lunchroom staff spent last Tuesday preparing and packing breakfast and lunch for 85 students to be delivered on Wednesday. They used the existing bus routes to deliver the food. Thursday, they delivered 120 breakfasts and lunches, and on Friday they were up to serving 130.
Stiegler said in one instance the district was very lucky. One of their big freezers went down in early March. “We just got it back up and repaired. That was good.”
In all, Stiegler feels his district is prepared to handle the closure of the bricks and mortar school by going to an online platform. He said that by not waiting for everything to be in place at the state and national level, his staff just went ahead and made plans to help their students.
“I am happy to see our educational community, and our community, come together,” he said.
Darby also feels that they are somewhat ahead of the game with the physical school being closed. The district already has a personalized learning program in place for most of the high school, so superintendent Dan Johnston feels it’s been an easier transition for them.
All students from fifth grade to seniors have Chrome books and know how to use them. The teachers are familiar with Google Classroom which is the platform they will use, along with using Zoom to broadcast lessons.
The district has reached out to families of students who have special needs to work with them. Johnston said they have the content but need to come up with systems that will work for everyone. The para professionals are also working remotely one-on-one with the individuals and their families. The school will continue to fine tune their programs up to and through Spring Break which ends April 14th. The school board has extended Darby’s school closures to this date.
Darby currently has 329 students enrolled from kindergarten to 12th grade. They have also participated in the SFSP program and are set up for home delivery of breakfasts and lunches. Last Thursday they served 85 students. Now they can serve anyone 18 years and younger in the Darby district. The meals may be picked up from 5 to 7 p.m., curbside, in front of the school.
Victor School closed their doors to students on March 16 in order to prepare for distance learning. While the students weren’t there, the teachers and staff were preparing for this, according to Superintendent Lance Pearson.
“The cooks put in a big order for shelf stable foods and we applied for the SFSP,” said Pearson. “Now we are delivering using vans which follow the bus routes. We did 160 breakfasts and lunches this week.”
Victor School will also be using Google Classroom as their platform. Teachers who have compromised immune systems have been working from home for the last week. He said that Principal Diane Woodard has a strong background in technology and has worked hard to get all the teachers’ platforms up to date. Pearson said the first thing they did was to identify who doesn’t have internet and try to find solutions for them. Students have been able to come by the school and pick up their Chrome books and packets. Students from sixth grade up are given Chrome books at the beginning of the year.
Students with special needs will still have those needs met through the teachers and para professionals. Those who may use special services such as mental health services will be more difficult to set up programs for because of a higher degree of confidentiality. But the school is working with these professionals and may use tele-therapy to help these students.
Victor School finishes up the third quarter on Thursday. The students began online classes on Monday. They were scheduled to be off for Spring Break from Friday through next Tuesday. This gives the district two weeks to work out any problems that may come up this week, according to Pearson.
“After this week, we should be able to move to a distance learning model, provide meals, and figure out how to provide services to those students with special needs. We want to have everyone practicing social distancing for the next 15 to 30 days.”
Like the rest of the schools, Hamilton is providing breakfasts and lunches to students in the district. As of now, they may be picked up at Daly School in the new foyer. They are working to deliver homebound students meals on a case by case basis, according to district spokeswoman Justine Stewart.
Stewart said the district’s special education teachers are contacting families and are continuing to individualize education as needed for each student through work packets as well as Google Classroom.
“We are learning to adapt to our students’ needs as we adapt to a new way of teaching,” said Stewart.
Stewart also said HSD3 is utilizing social media as much as they can. Superintendent Tom Korst went live last week on Facebook and outlined three phases. The first one, just get something started and provide an educational platform whether it’s through digital, Chrome books, or paper and pencil. Phase 2 is to develop this program further to get it to what they’d like it to be. To achieve this, Hamilton schools will be reaching out to families to provide more instructional support and meaningful instruction. The final phase is to integrate these new approaches into the existing system.
Korst said on the video, “I see this becoming part of our system and this is a good opportunity to practice it and maybe perfect it, even though the circumstances are unfortunate.”
For those who don’t have computers, more Chrome books have been ordered. The WiFi at the schools will stay on and be available in the guest parking lot. For those on Facebook, there are several activities that help connect the students during this social distancing. They recently had a spirit day and encouraged students to post a photo of themselves in Bronc or Colt apparel.
All the schools are trying to make their students’ educational experience meaningful and give them a sense of being connected. Contact your child’s district office with any questions.