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Virtual study hall, even yoga class, part of Jefferson County School District's effort to help families with online learning

As a new chapter of remote learning began for local students last month, school district staff has also had to learn and adapt to new methods of reaching students during the pandemic.

"Our teachers are working extremely hard to support their students in this new learning environment," said Jefferson County School District 509J Director of Curriculum and Instruction Melinda Boyle.

The Jefferson County 21st Century Community Learning Center provides free virtual tutoring services for K-12 students to support them during Comprehensive Distance Learning and CASA Online Learning. District teachers offer tutoring services and drop-in study hall from 3:30 to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Students must register but may drop in at any time during the sessions.

The drop-in virtual study hall is offered online via Google Meet. Teachers will be available to help students in all grade levels and all subject areas. They encourage students to form study groups and meet during virtual study hall.

Warm Springs K-8 Mental Health Specialist Kristina McElroy plans free virtual YogaCalm workshops through Jefferson County 21st Century Community Learning Center. YogaCalm is a combination of yoga and mindfulness. Yoga is stretches for the body, and mindfulness is learning how to calm the mind. The workshops begin Monday, Oct. 12, and are divided by grade level. Registration is required.

District leaders say teachers are adjusting to the new classroom formats through several professional learning opportunities. That includes regular support offered through morning office hours and multiple opportunities for instructional and technical support. Teachers also receive mentoring and technical, instructional and immediate support.

Teachers are keeping a growth mindset, working closely with peers and supporting each other, Boyle said.

The technology department has taken center stage during remote learning.

The initial districtwide device deployment to students and families at Madras High School and Warm Springs K-8 Academy allowed families to pick up equipment for all students in a single location.

Following the deployment week, the remaining distribution of devices has been handled by individual schools, with the technology department supporting the staff in each building to coordinate the process with families.

The framework for providing support to staff and students has been expanded to incorporate calls with individual families and students along with in-person support for situations where physical interaction with the equipment is necessary, said David Hicks, the district's information technology director.

Staff members in each building have also helped people change passwords and troubleshoot access problems.

"The efforts of the individual buildings have been invaluable in providing a quick response for families needing assistance," Hicks said. "Instructional coaches from Teaching and Learning Support have provided incredible levels of support and training to assist teaching staff with the implementation of a variety of instructional technology strategies and tools."

He noted that staff members in all areas of the district have worked together to support the increased need for technology support with distance learning. That work has allowed the district to meet the additional needs of students learning from home, he said.

"Students and families have also done an amazing job supporting each other as we all learn new processes and approaches together," Hicks said.

The district has faced some challenges during distance learning.

Lack of community and home connectivity for students has been tough at times, as has been the lack of personal connection. Remote learning also decreases the ability to connect personally and build face-to-face relationships.

It's challenging for K-3 students to learn foundational skills through technology, and it's not as easy to provide intensive support for individual students virtually or by phone.

District leaders point out that there are, however, some positives of distance learning.

Students are learning high-level technology skills, and teachers are working closely with peers and supporting each other to help support all students in this new learning environment.

The district plans to begin limited in-person learning opportunities in mid to late October, assuming metrics allow.

"Our planning committee is convening to update our operational blueprint for limited in-person learning," Boyle said.


21st Century Community Learning Center

For more information or to register for tutoring, virtual study hall and YogaCalm, call 541-475-0388 or visit online.

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