COVID-19 has been a major part of this year for many months. The virus has caused a big shift in daily routines and even larger changes for work and school. School districts are utilizing live video applications like Google Meet and Zoom to meet the unique challenges of the 2020-21 school year.
In the Kansas City, MO Hickman Mills School District, a committee of parents, students and district staff created the Return to Learn Plan. The comprehensive plan allows for parents to enroll their students under two different options: Option A includes distance learning in red status, blended learning in yellow status, and face-to-face instruction in green status, while Option B enables parents to keep their students fully virtual at home on the Hickman Mills Virtual Learning Program.
Similarly, the Center School District in Kansas City, MO has a three-phase CENTERed on Learning Plan. In Phase 1, students are fully virtual with supports for diverse learning groups. In Phase 2, students will spend part of their week with face-to-face learning and the other part will be distance/virtual learning. In Phase 3, the goal is for 100% in-person learning.
The feedback has been positive for both the Hickman Mills School District and Center School District. Christina Medina, communications director for Center, said, “We have heard how well our teachers are continuing to connect with students. Parents and students have shared that virtual learning is going better than they expected.”
Hickman Mills public information director, Marissa Wamble, said, “The district has received many thank you emails from parents and staff who are grateful that the health and safety of the community is the priority. We are grateful to the students, parents and teachers who have stepped up to meet any challenges.”
Virtual schools have the same rules as any traditional school would: clothing has to be appropriate, no foul language is allowed, and students are expected to be on time. With schoolwork being digital, there are no more busy hallways and no more need for bathroom passes. Trees are being saved and less hands are being cramped from using pencils for paper assignments.
Remote learning expenses vary between school districts. Because the Hickman Mills School District and Center School District had a one-to-one technology initiative in place prior to the COVID pandemic, they were able to save money by not having to purchase new laptops for students to do their work. “In terms of budget, we are certainly seeing an increase in cleaning supplies and other mitigating measures to help prevent COVID,” Medina said, “while at the same time we are seeing a decrease in some costs such as transportation.”
One unfortunate part about being virtual is that students who are at-risk may be less inclined to attend school since they are not going to class in an actual school building where there is face-to-face interaction.
To keep students motivated to participate and learn while being virtual, Center students at the secondary level are divided into groups. “We have modified our schedule and broken student groups into an A group and a B group,” said Medina. “This keeps class sizes smaller and allows students to break up learning between on-line and other projects or assignments. Also, our teachers have done a wonderful job of truly engaging students. They have created virtual classrooms to help students continue to feel connected.”
Hickman’s secondary school, Ruskin, is set up with a similar plan. During blended learning, students are assigned to two groups: Blue and Gold. On Mondays and Tuesdays, the Blue group will attend classes on an A/B schedule, and the Gold group will follow an A/B schedule on Thursdays and Fridays.
Social-emotional support is a top priority for the Hickman Mills School District and Center School District. For Center students, the district’s support staff provides opportunities for students to join programs such as lunch bunch to connect with peers as well as meet with mentors virtually. Additionally, said Medina: “Our social workers and counselors are also checking in with students and hosting a myriad of virtual meetings to ensure students are receiving the support they need.”
About the effort in Hickman Mills, Wamble said, “We have Family School Liaisons at each school, and they have access to community resources such as Swope, Rediscover, Cornerstone of Care, CAC and many more. Also, teachers this year are utilizing 6 Minute SEL which is a resource to help boost core social emotional learning skills which are reinforced with counselors and FSLs. We are starting: “Becoming a Man and Working on Womanhood” at Ruskin and Smith Hale, starting in January 2021 from Youth Guidance.”
This new way of learning is a huge challenge for everyone and will continue to be, but it isn’t impossible.
By James Russell
James is a 12th grader in Journalism 2 class at Ruskin High School