Roaring Fork Schools preparing to roll out distance learning plans

District to begin distributing meals to students in need on Monday

Photo illustration of girl with headset lying on floor using laptop.
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Roaring Fork Schools are taking a phased approach to reconnect students with their teachers and schoolmates via electronic means after spring break ends this week.

Schools across the state are to remain closed until at least April 20 by order of public health officials during the coronavirus pandemic. 

But most districts are already in the process of preparing for how learning might continue even beyond that time, if the state orders schools closed through the remainder of the spring semester.

For public schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, there will continue to be no direct contact with students on Monday and Tuesday next week. Come Wednesday, the plan is to roll out a variety of informal learning enrichment activities for students to help get them ready for a more intentional online instruction routine later in April.

“For our staff and for a lot of our families, it has not been much of a spring break,” Superintendent Rob Stein said during a special school board video conference meeting on Wednesday. “It has been very challenging, but we will be ready to go with some things on Monday.”

First priority will be to make sure children who often rely on school-based meal services don’t go hungry.

Starting Monday, the district will begin delivering meals for anyone 18 and younger who needs one, regardless of whether they qualify under federal free and reduced lunch guidelines.

Meals are to be distributed at three centralized locations in each of the communities, Glenwood Springs Elementary School, Crystal River Elementary in Carbondale and Basalt Elementary.

The district has also identified 18 bus stop locations within the district as neighborhood delivery points where there are higher concentrations of students, Jeff Gatlin, chief operating officer for the district, said. 

Garfield Re-2 has been providing meals to students and families in need since the extended spring break began on March 16.

“What they saw is that demand started to increase as the week went on, so we want to plan for that higher demand from day one,” Gatlin said, adding the district is now prepared to provide 1,400 meals a day. 

School bus drivers are to drive the meals to the different locations, and other staff will be assigned to help hand off the meals, he said.

Volunteer help may be needed, but details are still being worked out. Volunteer coordination would be handled outside the district, Gatlin said.

Roaring Fork Schools grab-and-go meal service

The Roaring Fork Schools will provide free meals to all children during the upcoming school closure beginning Monday, March 30 through Friday, April 17.

All children 18 years of age and younger will receive one breakfast and one lunch per day, regardless of where the child attends school.

According to a press release, the program is not just for low-income households: it is for all children — no qualifications are required.

Children do not have to be present to receive a meal; parents and guardians can pick up meals for their children. Meals will be provided on weekdays in designated locations in each community, including specific school sites and stops on bus routes.

All locations and times can be found here.

On the instruction and learning side of things, Chief Academic Officer Rick Holt explained during the meeting that distance-learning opportunities are to be delivered in two phases.

“As we ramp up, the primary focus will be on creating connection and engagement for both students and staff,” Holt said.

That may involve optional learning activities that teachers can facilities with their students and families. The idea is to prepare for actual distance learning instruction come April 20, if necessary, he said.

Much will depend on student access to computers and a reliable internet connection in their home environments, Holt added.

All district students third grade through high school have school-issued Chromebooks, he noted. Middle and high school students should have them in hand, but schools may need to deliver them to the younger students.

When it comes to distance learning, the district would limit use of online methods to third grade and above, while kindergarten through second-grade learning would be paper-based, Holt said.  

The district has also been working with area internet providers to try to connect homes that currently don’t have internet.

Holt acknowledged that many teachers also will be juggling duties between students and their own children, who will need to be online to do schoolwork at the same time, so access and equity in delivering the instruction is a concern.

For that reason, grading and testing requirements may need to be relaxed, and some students simply may need to play catch up next school year, district officials acknowledge.

District high schools could potentially ramp up faster than the primary schools, since teachers and students have more experience keeping up with their school work through the existing Schoology online system, Holt said.

Cindy Gray, director of Early Childhood for the district, also informed the board that the state will permit some classrooms to be opened up to provide child daycare for teachers and other essential workers. 

“There are openings at some childcare centers and homes that we would try to fill first, and help some of those businesses stay afloat,” Gray said. 

To make sure family health and wellness needs are met, Roaring Fork Family Services interim director Anna Cole said the district has been checking in on families over spring bring. They’ve also continued to take new referrals as needs for such things as medical, dental, food, housing and general economic assistance have increased during the crisis, she said.

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