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A running start at distance learning

Garfield County School District 16’s forward thinking eases transition to distance learning

Math and building trades teacher Jason Arthur has not skipped a beat as he is adept at the flipped classroom. He is providing lessons on his YouTube channel. (Provided)

Moving toward competency-based personalized learning before the pandemic has helped Parachute/Battlement Mesa-based Garfield 16 school district, now in its fifth week of distance learning. 

“Fortunately we are moving towards a blended learning model here at the district,” Assistant Superintendent Todd Ellis said.

“This has shown us in yet another way we are on the right course. Our superintendent and school board have shown great forward-thinking in bringing the benefits of personalized learning to our families.”

Before COVID-19, the district was close to one-to-one technology to student ratio from second through the 12th grade.

Ellis said they only had to get technology to families of kindergarten and first grade students, and also provided internet for all those who needed it by purchasing hotspots.

Teacher McKenzie Smith works with her class on skip counting and enjoying some fun with her Crew students. (Provided)


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With the district in year one of a three-year transition to competency-based personalized learning, Ellis said staff had received some training prior to the stay at home order due to the pandemic that helped teachers adapt to the steep learning curve.

“Our teachers have taken on a great task and it has not been easy for them, but they have come through as our teachers always do,” Ellis said. “While blended learning is a significant part of the plan for the district, teachers with kids are a vital part of what the district does.” 

The shutdown has proven to Ellis and the rest of the district administration that face-to-face teaching in the classroom cannot be replicated and is necessary for quality learning.

“They are fulfilling our obligation to raise kids above their circumstances and it is inspiring to witness. However, we are not and will not be able to teach our students to the level we want and need to,” Ellis said. “If we were in year two it would only be a small hill, if we were in year three it would be a bump.”

Another big help during the stay at home order has been the school based family resource center that was implemented by superintendent Brad Ray and is in its second year.

“Little did he know when he brought that in, just how important that would be for families in the community,” Ellis said.

Jennifer Hoyt teaches a math lesson to her middle school math students during a recent lesson through distance learning. (Provided)
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The center has remained functional, providing help to families.

‘They have continued to provide mental health and family counseling services, as well food distribution, hygiene products as donations have come in,” Ellis said.

The district food service and tech department have been on the frontlines serving around 1,700 meals a week to students in need of food and providing a helpline and repair services for students and their families.

With the distance learning starting March 31, Ellis said the state approved the district finishing up the semester on schedule May 21.

Ellis said that the superintendent and high school principal have met with as many of the seniors and families as possible and are moving forward with a few ideas.

“That’s easily the more disheartening piece of this, those kids had so much to look forward to, and I know they are very disappointed,” Ellis said.

“We want to make sure there is some sort of a positive memory for those students and their families.”

kmills@postindependent.com


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