From kitchen tables, couches and bedrooms, school days go on in northern Colorado school districts as students, teachers and staff remain shut out of classrooms and buildings with the novel coronavirus pandemic.
This month, Greeley-Evans School District 6 and Weld RE-4 switched to a remote, online-only learning plan.
Even as the Colorado Department of Education suspended state assessment tests with large-scale district closures statewide, local faculty and students are hunkered down at home with laptops to continue the learning process while dealing with an unprecedented challenge posed by the fast-spreading COVID-19.
“This online platform gives students a chance to have some normalcy back in their lives and an opportunity to keep achieving their academic goals,” Greeley Central High School math teacher Sean Miller wrote in an email. “District 6 has done a great job finding a way to keep students engaged and learning.”
District 6 rolled out its
remote learning plan March 31 while Weld RE-4, for schools in Windsor and
Severance, started online learning April 6.
‘VIRUS TOOK MY YEAR OF CELEBRATION‘
In Greeley, reviews for the new form of education are receiving more than just a passing grade.
Using a virtual learning platform called Schoology, the teachers and students in District 6 are able to continue their work through the coronavirus crisis.
Elementary students (kindergarten through 5th grades) have two weekly conferences with teachers while completing lessons in reading and math. Activities in art, music and physical education for K-8 students are available on the district website.
Middle and high school students (6th through 12th grades) log into Schoology during their regularly scheduled class times. The online learning is focused on: English Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, Science, Oral Language Development, Concurrent Enrollment, AP courses and DP courses (IB Programme).
The middle and high school classes are held through the morning and range from 30 to 65 minutes long. Teachers have office hours daily in the afternoon to answer questions and provide additional assistance.
There is at least one group
of students for whom remote learning cannot replace the in-school experience,
especially at this time of year: high school seniors.
For those students, potentially lost are the final rite-of-passage experiences that are a significant part of high school memories: ending a scholastic athletic career, a final performance in a theater production or concert, prom and, quite possibly, graduation.
The uncertain status of a District 6 commencement is particularly tough to take for Greeley West senior Jacquelin Rodriguez Gonzalez, who will be the second member of her family to graduate from high school.
“It’s hard to explain, why senior year was so important to me, to my parents that didn’t get to experience it,” the 17-year-old Rodriguez Gonzalez wrote in an email. “I feel helpless as a senior because I don’t have a choice. The virus just took my year of celebration and there is nothing I could do about it.”
District 6 Chief of Communications Theresa Myers said the district has not made a decision on commencement. The district is evaluating options, and it might be a few weeks before a plan is established.
Fellow District 6 seniors Brian Davis, Travis Menard and Indigo Parlin share Rodriguez Gonzalez’s disappointment.
Menard, a member of the Greeley Central baseball team, was looking forward to his last high school season. A two-year varsity player, he didn’t get a chance to play a game for the Wildcats this year before the Colorado High School Activities Association took its initial step in suspending spring sports and activities.
Davis, who is looking forward to studying musical theatre at the University of Northern Colorado, was cast in a leading role in Central’s production of “Something Rotten,” a musical about two brothers trying to write a hit play in the 1590s.
The Greeley Central show was scheduled for April 2-4 and 9-10 and has been postponed. The production was going to be special for the 18-year-old Davis, not only as one of the leads, but Central was one of two schools nationwide to earn the amateur rights to perform the show.
Parlin, 18, is the top-ranked student in the senior class.
With a 4.5 weighted grade point average, Parlin is deciding between Ivy League
universities Dartmouth and Columbia, where she will likely study computer
The stay-at-home order as a result of coronavirus will likely prevent Parlin from visiting those schools, but she doesn’t see that as being a hurdle in her decision-making process.
“It would’ve been nice,” said Parlin, who added she didn’t
expect to be accepted to the schools when she applied and didn’t visit in
Parlin said she wonders if the closures and stay-at-home orders in effect in various forms nationwide will extend into her freshman year of college.
With an interest in arts, Parlin was preparing for
end-of-year shows in two classes: stage production and dance.
For these young adults, at a time in their lives when many
activities and events are marked on a timeline to their futures, once clearly
defined dates on a calendar are now clouded by uncertainty.
“It’s a huge surprise, and, not that it’s in anyone’s control,” Menard said. “We got robbed of this experience, but it happens, and life goes on.”
In February, when District 6 personnel and officials realized coronavirus could be a problem, they started evaluating options for educational opportunities for students, according to spokeswoman Myers.
The district ramped up efforts to design and develop a
remote-learning plan within the 10 days to two weeks surrounding spring break.
When the Colorado Department of Education in mid-March suspended the statewide assessment tests, known as CMAS (Colorado Measures of Academic Success), it cited the extensive school closures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as the basis for the decision.
“Students and educators need
to feel a sense of stability and normalcy before state tests can be
administered and produce valid results,” Colorado Education Commissioner Katy
Anthes said in a March 17 news release.
As a result, districts were
then charged with figuring out plans to continue educating students “to the
extent they are able during this unprecedented disruption in education,” Anthes
On education, Colorado is a local-control state, meaning the state constitution allows for curriculum and instruction to be set by the districts.
Myers called District 6’s
plan “robust learning,” with a focus on core areas of education: literacy and
The CDE’s role — even in this unprecedented time for students and educators — is to continue to serve as a guide or advisor for districts. The department set up a comprehensive set of pages on its website, lending information to families, district officials and communities.
“We’ve tried to summarize
federal laws on special education, and we pull resources for educators and
parents,” Deputy Education Commissioner Alyssa Pearson said. “We’ve been trying
to give people resources to work off of. How can we help as you figure out this
entirely different world of doing things?”
Pearson said though in-person
schooling has been suspended, there is an expectation at the state level that
districts will enact “alternate learning opportunities,” for their students.
Those plans look different districts across the state, Pearson added. In rural districts, where internet access might be less reliable for families, schools have enacted packet pick ups using safe hand-off procedures. Other districts are going full days online such as in District 6 and neighboring Weld RE-4.
Weld RE-4 Superintendent Dan Seegmiller provided an update on the remote learning plan in an April 1 email.
“Parents, I encourage you to
let go of any worry or guilt around your child’s learning,” Seegmiller said.
“Do what you can. Have patience with yourselves and with us. We are all
navigating new and different responsibilities and realities.”
ONLINE SCHOOL DAY
In Greeley, Brentwood Middle School math teacher Andy Hartshorn was involved in creating a good chunk of District 6’s online math curriculum for students in grades 7-12. Hartshorn said the immediate task was “how to create something from nothing and in a very quick timeframe.”
Looking at academics, Hartshorn and his colleagues had to figure out how to relay lessons for each class — the basic objectives of the courses — but doing this with much less time and in a drastically different setting.
“It’s trying to do the most we possibly can without knowing
the outcome,” Hartshorn said.
Less than three weeks into the altered-learning format, Greeley
West High School teacher Stephen Paulson said the process is different but
better than he expected. After a couple of days of glitches, where students and
teachers had trouble accessing Schoology, the education process has continued
Paulson said attendance in his classes in social studies, world history, economics, human geography and others, have hovered around the 90% mark.
A benefit of the online learning is students can proceed at their own pace, and there is flexibility with the platform. Teachers have the option to record the lessons, and students can return to the lessons and watch again. Teachers also host office hours to allow student additional opportunities for extra assistance.
Greeley Central senior Parlin said it’s difficult for her to
assess the quality of the education the students are receiving online versus in
class. The online classes are significantly shorter, and a key to managing this
is self-motivation. Students have to have the drive and discipline to do their
work and take the initiative to learn on their own.
“The main difference is online is taking a lot of
self-initiative,” Parlin said. “Teachers are making it as best as they possibly
can. They’re working overtime to make sure we do well, and they’re available
for one-on-one video chats.”
Paulson said he’s very comfortable with the quality of
education the district is putting out with the online platform. It might not
match what could be in place if the district had to go to online 10 years ago
when Paulson started teaching. And, he added, it doesn’t compare with being in
school but overall “I think quality learning is still happening.”
“I don’t think we can throw a computer program at someone
and call it an education,” Paulson said. “We’re still getting kids to read, to
write, research and think critically.”
Paulson said he has a better understanding of the power of interpersonal relationships, the need for interaction and socialization because of the online learning. With those removed, Paulson said there might be a tried-and-true lesson worthy of revisiting: you don’t know what you have until it’s lost.
“When you’re looking forward to a trip to backyard it’s not the same thing,” he said.
Anne Delaney covers breaking news and features for the Greeley Tribune. Contact Anne at , (970) 392-5647 or on Twitter @AnneGDelaney.
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