Schools adjust to distance learning
Area schools have had to pivot from providing students supplemental materials to Distance Learning for All, which requires more instruction but also gives schools more flexibility.
The changes came last week after Gov. Kate Brown announced that the closure of all schools in Oregon would continue through the end of the school year.
The Oregon Department of Education had warned schools that the move was likely coming, and last week they were told to have a plan in place by April 13.
Educating from a distance
The Jefferson County 509-J School District rolled out its plan Tuesday, April 14, at all of its meal sites.
Before that, packets sent home at meal sites and materials online were districtwide and organized by grade level.
"We are transitioning with our schools, where each school has to come up with their own learning plans," said Melinda Boyle, the district's director of curriculum and instruction.
Stefanie Garber, who is superintendent of Culver School District and principal of Culver Elementary, said Culver will roll out its distance learning April 22. For now, students are still doing packet work.
"It's allowing teachers to teach instead of just doing the supplemental learning, which I think they're excited about," Garber said.
Both Garber and 509-J Superintendent Ken Parshall believe the changes to education could have lasting positive effects.
Teachers are contacting families directly. In Culver, teachers are making phone calls. In the 509-J district, teachers are using the phone, email and apps to talk with families.
"One of the good things that can come out of a challenging time is that we grow closer together through adversity," Parshall said.
"It's just allowing a greater level of outreach to families," Garber said. "I think that is a good thing."
The 509-J district is focusing equally on online resources and paper resources for students.
"Approximately half of our families don't have internet access," Parshall said. That's partly because some are in rural areas where connectivity isn't available, it's partly the expense of broadband, and for some families, it's a choice.
He said the district is working to make sure it's print materials are as high quality as its online materials.
With different classes creating their own plans, families who want paper materials have to let teachers know which meal site they are using.
Boyle said the district will continue to add supplemental materials, too. Last week math games were included in packets; this week students can pick up art supplies. And books are available for students to keep from all the sites, thanks to a federal literacy grant.
In Culver, fewer than 20% of students don't have internet access, and the district is focusing on getting access for as many students as possible so that most of the instruction can be done online, Garber said. Bend Broadband and Spectrum are giving free access for 60 days to people who have a student in their household, she said. Print materials will still be available for students without access.
Culver will be grading work, as well. They're following guidelines from the state for the maximum amount of time students can be expected to be online each day. At the high school level, each day will focus on a different subject.
"They can have a longer time online, and then they'll give four days of work to accompany what they did online," Garber said.
For younger students, instruction time will be much shorter.
Parshall said he expects that work will be graded in the near future, but not yet.
"Right now we're focusing on the learning part, not the grading," Parshall said. "And collaborating with families."
As of Friday afternoon, he was waiting for guidance from ODE on how all of that would work.
Garber and Parshall both said teachers are learning how to navigate new ways of connecting with their students. Garber expects that as they experiment, some things will work better than others.
Parshall said the district is trying to give teachers and other employees as much flexibility as possible, since many of them are also home with kids who would normally be in school.
Life isn't the same for teachers or their students' families, he said.
"As a district, we're really trying to model that same grace for our employees that they're trying to approach families with," he said.
Parshall added that in a few weeks, the district will be giving teachers professional learning opportunities and development so they are ready for the fall.
"But we're going to go slow on that for now while we're focused on families," he said.
Across the country, people are expressing their sympathy for the class of 2020. On the top of those concerns is graduation.
The 509-J district hasn't made any decisions yet. Parshall said a ceremony might happen while restrictions on gathering are in place, just in a different way, or it might be postponed until a traditional ceremony is possible.
"There's a lot of unknowns right now," he said.
Garber is hopeful that the restrictions will be lifted in June.
"It is my hope that we will have the old-fashioned graduation," she said. "These kids have earned it and deserve it."
All students who were on track to graduate will automatically do so, according to Brown's mandate. And schools must work on credit recovery for those who were not.
Sympathizing with parents
Both superintendents expressed sympathy for parents who are working or have the stress of not working and are now expected to home-school their children, too.
"My heart just hurts for families who now the parents have lost their job, and now they're being asked to instant teachers," Garber said. "I want the kids back in their chairs. It's where they belong."
"One thing to think about is: do a little bit well," Parshall said. "Set time aside each day, like at night after dinner if you're working. Make this probelm an opportunity."He said parents shouldn't feel like they have to spend eight hours a day on schoolwork with their children.
"Quality time matters more than quantity," he said. "We all know that everyone has busy lives."
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