K-12 schools, CMC look online to maintain learning during school and campus closures

A lone faculty member makes his way across the CMC Spring Valley campus on Wednesday afternoon.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

As area K-12 schools and Colorado Mountain College extend campus closures until at least mid-April related to public health concerns around the COVID-19 virus, a move from classroom learning to online instruction becomes very real.

Just how that might look could be very different depending on the grade level and individual school and campus capabilities.

School districts from Aspen to Parachute announced Wednesday that they will jointly keep schools closed through April 18, in keeping with Gov. Jared Polis’ latest statewide order. That means school wouldn’t be back in session until April 20, at the earliest.

CMC, meanwhile, remains on extended spring break this week, but come March 23 will move to online or Webex classes until at least April 12.

Many CMC courses are already taught online or in a hybrid format, and every course has a built-in online format if instructors choose to use it, Kathryn Regjo, CMC vice president of Academic Affairs, said during a special CMC Board of Trustees teleconference meeting on Wednesday.

A classroom sits empty at the CMC Spring Valley Campus on Wednesday afternoon.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“Each of our courses has an online system component for learning management,” she said. “So, all of the instructors have that shell available to them to use.”

However, some faculty members may be more comfortable switching to an online format than others. So, campus deans and assistant deans have been busy during the extended spring break to implement the system and troubleshoot any problems, Regjo said.

The bigger challenge could be for students who don’t have reliable computers or internet access to be able to keep up with their coursework, college officials acknowledge.

“Some students can’t just shift to working on their personal computers, and may rely on the computer labs that are on campus,” Matt Gianneschi, chief operating officer for CMC, said during the tele-meeting.

Students who need to be on campus, or who already are in campus residence halls and need access to the computer labs, will be allowed to do so, he said.

Campus personnel will provide for proper “social-distancing” and sanitation in the labs, he said.

For K-12 schools, the prospect of online learning is more challenging, especially for younger students and given disparate circumstances for all ages of students, many of whom may not have online access.

“Our primary concern right now is that students stay connected to the learning community,” Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Rob Stein said in a letter to parents Wednesday outlining measures that are being taken during the extended schools closure.

After spring break, “From March 30 to April 17, we will provide recommended learning activities and online check-ins to keep students engaged and connected,” Stein said in the letter. 

However, “Since we cannot guarantee equitable access to instruction, attendance will not be taken, work will not be graded, and students will not be penalized if they are unable to participate.”

During a special Roaring Fork District school board teleconference meeting on Tuesday, Chief Academic Officer Rick Holt said the main goal is to try to maintain some type of virtual social contact between students during the school closure.

“We don’t want students to feel too isolated,” he said. “We are looking at ways to make sure families are having their needs met, including physical and academic activities to help students stay engaged.”

CMC officials indicated during their meeting Wednesday that they may also be able to assist K-12 schools within the college district with online instructional and interactive needs.

“The college is considering ways to support our K-12 partners and children displaced from their learning environments, possibly by leveraging our online learning capabilities and teacher education program,” CMC President and CEO Carrie Hauser said.

Added Stein in his Wednesday letter to parents, “The decision to close school is never made without extremely good cause and careful consideration. We know that closing school places a child care burden on families and that many families rely on the critical services that schools provide.”

The district is also looking at potential ways to assist with daytime childcare needs during the closure, as well as possibly providing meals to students in need.

“We are committed to providing two free meals a day to all children who need them starting on March 30,” Stein said.

The district will announce where and how meals will be delivered before March 29. 

Garfield Re-2 schools have also been providing meals to students through a distribution program that began Monday, when the district began its extended spring break.

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