Remote schooling ramps up next week in Cody as the district, in accordance with a state order, unveils an online adapted learning program to take the place of classroom time as all schools are now closed through at least April 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some schools are having parents pick up new learning packets later in the week and a device to provide learning through the extended time off, if not longer.
Interim superintendent Peg Monteith said the adaptive learning plan, initially called an e-learning plan, was sent to the state Tuesday to be approved. The state approved Cody's and all other district plans Thursday.
She said as long as the schools continue to teach students online, the district will not be extending school into the summer.
Local teachers will get a break following the week of April 6, as the state has allowed extra days for districts to prepare and thus the district will maintain its spring break April 9-13. Unlike many teachers in districts that began the closure with a previously planned spring break, Cody teachers had been working to prepare and push out lessons and learning since the school closure was enacted.
“We have had a couple of weeks under our belt to iron out some problems, so we actually are kind of ahead of the game,” Monteith said.
Board chair Brandi Nelson said she’s been dealing with the successes and struggles of her children moving to online. She credited the teachers.
“They just are doing great things,” she said. “Once we get a plan in place, I hope we can communicate expectations on hours per day – it isn’t what some parents think.
“I hope parents will be patient as we get there.”
Classified staff will also get paid through spring break along with certified staff, as trustees approved at Tuesday’s remote board meeting.
The online learning will be done with the help of programs such as Google Classroom, and teachers across the district have been reaching out to parents this week to prepare them and see if any homes lack internet access and would thus need an alternative teaching plan.
“We explain how we’re working with students virtually depending on age,” Monteith said. “Kindergarten through second grade we’re doing packets ... we may do some virtual in that range as well. The rest of the students all have some device that allows them to connect with teachers, and virtual learning opportunities are going out.”
With the Cody School District not starting the time off with a week of spring break, Monteith said teachers had that week to prepare learning plans and push them out to families within a week. That has enabled teachers and parents to already find ways to improve.
“Parents are teaching students and we’re having teachers home schooling their own children and others and it’s been a heavy lift. We’re hearing the challenges of that,” Monteith said. “We’re being more mindful and explicit about expectations, so parents aren’t under the impression kindergartners need to do six hours of school work.”
Last week Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow issued guidance for school districts’ safe, but continued, operation during the extended closure.
“School doors may be closed to students, but Wyoming education is open for business,” Balow said. “The desire by teachers to connect with their students and provide learning opportunities has been inspiring. Teaching and learning while practicing social distancing is a new concept for many. Teachers, parents and students all need support in order for it to be successful.”
Each Wyoming school district must have an Adapted Learning Plan approved by the Wyoming Department of Education prior to April 6 to continue to receive state funding. On Monday, every district is expected to continue to provide an equitable education for all students in grades K-12 while access to school buildings is limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Adapted Learning Plans will allow each school district to deliver instruction through methods best suited to their district.
“We are working through immense challenges with laws, policies, practices and logistics. The collaboration among state leaders and local districts has been incredible,” Balow said. “We are all working together to give our students the education they deserve during this trying time.”
The small K-12 school began its time off due to the outbreak on spring break, so March 23 when teachers returned they received some professional development and then got busy transitioning their learning activities to a format that will be deployed electronically.
Superintendent Shane Ogden said last week the district began setting up the online program Canvas for students to use and teachers began working out an adapted learning plan to get underway by Monday.
All the while, he’s been reading books to his students via livestream.
“I love attending book readings in classrooms and during library time,” he said. “I thought this might be an opportunity for me to continue those activities with our kids.”
Tips for online learning
As many school districts across the state are closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Wyoming Connections Academy Principal Shannon Siebert, who serves more than 400 students in the state through virtual learning, shared best online-learning practices.
• Convey calm. In the case of coronavirus or any other crisis, Connections Academy encourages that you first assess and address the safety and well-being of the student.
• Create a Family Plan for Success. Students work well with, and are used to, routines, so keep them going at home. It is very likely that your child’s teacher will assign a list of lessons or activities with due dates, as well as some time for real-time online experiences. Take time to plan ahead with your student and discuss expectations for completing schoolwork and attending classes at home. Beyond helping your student, a schedule will help you manage the whole family including anyone who is working or learning at home.
• Organize your space. Students are more invested in learning when they have a dedicated school space, even if it’s just a corner of a room. Aim for a place that is free from distractions and noise. If you have more than one child, consider different spaces for each child to help with focus.
• Socialize. Remember that much of your child’s time at school is about having fun, connecting with new ideas and friends. With technology kids can be anywhere in the world without having to leave home. Take virtual field trips to museums or foreign countries, play interactive games, and video call with friends and family.
• Ask for help. This is an unprecedented time and parents aren’t expected to go it alone.