K-12 schools ramp up to start E-learning as facilities closure order is extended through April 30
A new era of “learning from home,” as some schools are starting to call it, hit home for real with the state’s decision Wednesday to keep public and private primary and secondary schools closed through April 30.
Gov. Jared Polis had been forewarning for the past week that, since the COVID-19 crisis has yet to peak in Colorado, mandated school and business closings and strict limits on the size of public gatherings were likely to be extended.
In light of that reality, Garfield County schools began formally rolling out plans that have been in the works for the past three weeks to provide instruction online.
“It’s a whole new, strange world in which educators who chose to teach children are now effectively educating adults on technology platforms and getting a sprint into 21st-century tech skills,” noted Sonya Hemmen, principal at the state charter Ross Montessori School in Carbondale.
“For Montessorians, this is vastly different than what we normally do for educating children,” she said. “I am so proud of the teaching staff at Ross for jumping up to this challenge.”
Teachers with the Roaring Fork District schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt this week also began reaching out to students and their families to make sure they have the necessary technology in place for students to keep up with their studies from home.
If not, efforts are being made to make sure those students have access to functioning computers and reliable internet before actual instruction begins.
Ramp up to remote learning
Starting April 20, the Roaring Fork Schools will resume school through “distance learning.”
It’s a term that’s become commonplace in higher education, but which K-12 schools are now turning to as social-distancing becomes a crucial means to try to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus that’s led to the global COVID-19 outbreak.
Once distance learning begins in the Roaring Fork Schools, students will be asked to do specific learning activities and complete assignments by specific due dates, according to a Thursday news release from the district.
Teachers are to provide “office hours” and crew circles with their classes using the online platform Google Hangouts Meet.
Elementary and middle schools in the district are to post grade-level “Week at a Glance” documents to their websites each week, while high school teachers will post theirs in the existing Schoology learning management system.
Superintendent Rob Stein said special education and language development supports will also be provided during this time.
“We have been very intentional with our timeline for launching distance learning,” Stein said. “We wanted to make sure we had adequate time to prepare for this shift in how we are delivering school, which is a major departure for our students and teachers alike.”
Many schools across the country moved too fast in trying to implement distance learning, Stein observed.
“We are taking time to plan thoughtfully,” he said.
Prior to April 20, the district will stay in “ramp-up” mode, which focuses on ensuring students reconnect with their teachers and classmates remotely. Students are also being provided with structured activities to help prepare them for structured teaching and learning online.
Teachers and instructional leaders are developing online lesson plans and printed materials for younger students that will be sent home via food delivery routes or picked up at schools.
Equity a key concern
Upon returning from spring break on Monday, district staff started calling families to check-in and assess needs, including internet and computer access.
Each district student in grades 3-12 have access to school-owned Chromebooks, which they will now use to access digital learning resources.
Also, information about free and low-cost internet options is being provided to families.
“Our plan is rooted in equity,” Stein said. “Many students face barriers, such as language, disability or access to the internet which must be addressed before we attach any consequences to academic work or participation.”
Some students are also caring for younger siblings while parents or working during the day, which is being taken into consideration.
“We need time to work through all of these issues before launching a formal distance learning program,” Stein said. “Our students are in school for 13 years, and right now, amidst change and crisis, the greatest need is to build a solid foundation for staying connected for the remainder of the school year.”
Charters forging ahead
Students at the district charter Carbondale Community School also began reconnecting with teachers and classmates via online meeting platforms such as Zoom. Families of the 135 students at the K-8 school are also invited to a Google Hangout with Principal Sam Richings-Germain on Friday to provide updates and answer questions about the school’s distance learning plan.
CCS also plans to start checking out Chromebooks to students Friday and is working to create print material to share with students early next week.
“We are ensuring that all of our students have access to a computer and internet access so they can engage in meaningful distance learning during the school closure,” Richings-Germain said.
As with the district schools, CCS is also taking a phased approach before formal instruction begins.
“We are thankful for all of the support we receive from the Roaring Fork School District and are following their lead while also striving to be innovative and to serve our students and families as best we can,” Richings-Germain said.
At Ross Montessori, Hemmen said the school’s teaching coach, Mandi Franz, got to work the day after schools closed for the extended spring break to devise a plan for a hands-on learning approach that could become something virtual.
“This is more difficult than it sounds,” Hemmen said. “She started to research on her own, looked at some Zoom meetings and paid attention to a Montessori school in Texas that seems similar to us.
“The Montessori community has selflessly and graciously shared plans that are now being used across the globe,” she said.
The Montessori School of Tokyo, in particular, had a few weeks ahead of the United States to prepare and was willing to share.
School leadership met online with teachers on March 24 to explain the plan also using the Google Classroom format.
On Monday, teachers began to make phone calls, emails and online meetings with their students both individually and as classrooms, and Chromebooks were issued to students Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
“One mom at tech pickup (on Wednesday) told me she was very impressed by how far along and quickly we have responded to this need for teaching from home,” Hemmen said. “That made my day.”
Two Rivers Community School in Glenwood Springs also has been gearing up for online activities and instruction in the coming weeks.
“Though not meant to take the place of classroom learning, some of the links I’ve posted on the school’s website should help get you through the day,” according to the school’s latest Facebook post. “We will keep you posted as we develop plans for learning during the school closure.”
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Carbondale Middle School has transitioned most of its fifth grade cohort, including students and teachers, to distance learning for the coming week due to a positive COVID-19 test.