WORTHINGTON ― After a week and a half of planning, Independent School District 518 is prepared to begin distance learning Monday, as school buildings remain closed due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Adjustments at Prairie Elementary began just before the school break, explained Principal Heidi Meyer.
Students are accustomed to using their district-issued iPads at school, but were previously not permitted to bring their devices home. Anticipating that schools would move to a distance learning plan, Prairie teachers spent the last two school days teaching their students the tools they would likely use to learn on their iPads at home. Last Tuesday, Prairie students took their iPads home with them for the first time.
Elementary school is unique, Meyer noted, because students are still becoming independent learners. Teachers kept this in mind while writing distance learning plans.
“The lessons are adaptable and flexible, remembering that everyone has different needs,” she said.
Students picked up work packets this week, and will learn from a combination of on-paper assignments and iPad activities.
Wednesday’s packet pickup drew about 90% of Prairie families, Meyer said, and remaining students received their packets by personal delivery Thursday. Packets contain three weeks of work, and will be exchanged for new ones when completed.
Meyer explained that Prairie teachers have been using an app called Seesaw to communicate with parents, and they will use that platform to dispense messaging about future plans and classroom assignments.
During the distance learning period, each teacher will post a daily message (likely in video format) on Seesaw to explain what the class is doing that day, and to account for attendance.
“This will be an awesome way for kids to keep that daily connection with their teacher,” Meyer said.
Families who lack access to Wi-Fi can reference suggestions in the homework packets about where to find Internet connections.
To connect with students and parents who don’t speak English at home, teachers have access to interpreters when needed. Translation can ensure that messaging is received as families adjust to the new distance learning plan.
Worthington Middle School
WMS Principal Jeff Luke said that middle schoolers will begin each school day at 8 a.m. with a Zoom advisory period.
"That keeps the numbers down to 12 to 18 or 19 kids," he said. Advisory is when the students will touch base with their faculty advisor and take attendance.
Fifth graders still have a homeroom, so they will largely report to their homeroom teacher for assignments.
Grades six through eight will work a little differently. Monday through Thursday, each morning will be spent on one of four core subjects, and each afternoon is dedicated to an "exploratory" class such as music or physical education. Fridays are set aside for "office hours," where students may contact their teachers for extra help or work on assignments for any class.
Because teachers will only "see" each student once per week, they will assign projects or groups of assignments. Students will primarily use technology resources, such as Schoology, to complete their work. Assignments that must be done on paper can be turned in by taking a picture.
Aware that some students don't have Wi-Fi at home, Luke noted that there are other means for those students to be counted as present, such as a phone call. If needed, assignments can be delivered to students who don't have home Wi-Fi.
The district is also working to identify potential hotspot locations around the Worthington area in order to increase internet accessibility, he added.
"That would make a huge difference for us," Luke said. "The kids who are without are the ones who need us the most."
Worthington High School
At the high school, students will spend about an hour per day on each block’s classes, with a break for students to pick up lunches at the now-10 locations around Worthington where district staff members are distributing them. From 1:30 to 3:30 in the afternoon, students have designated time for communication with their teachers.
It is preferred that students follow the assigned schedule for distance learning, but if that isn’t possible on some days, the student must still complete any assigned work.
Most high school assignments will be completed electronically, but in some cases, that isn’t possible, and students will have to arrange picking up of materials. That was supposed to be completed by Friday.
Principal Doug Brands said the Learning Center will follow a plan similar to WHS's, only the Learning Center has five periods instead of four.
"Our staff has worked hard to give a lot of different options to students," he said. Last week, staff compiled a list of which students have internet at home and which don't.
Teachers have been trained to use the video calling platform Zoom, which has the ability for students to join a video lesson together. Those who don't have access to Wi-Fi may join the classroom discussion by phone, so at least they can hear the teacher's instruction.
At this point, distance learning is planned to last through May 4, but may be extended further as the coronavirus recommendations develop.
“It’s not a perfect thing at this point,” noted Superintendent John Landgaard, pointing out that plans may adjust as needed throughout the distance learning period.