By Rick Palsgrove
In the face of adversity, people often adapt and rise to the challenge, as Groveport Madison Schools teachers, administrators, staff, students, and the community are finding creative ways to ensure kids get a solid education during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Because of the recent increase in COVID-19 cases, the district returned to a 100 percent remote virtual online learning model in November. School officials anticipate the district will remain in a 100 percent online mode until it has been determined it is safe to a return to in-person classes, hopefully sometime in 2021.
“When we moved back to the 100 percent remote learning model on Nov. 16, we indicated we would closely monitor health conditions throughout the holidays and make a determination in mid-January whether it was safe to resume our blended learning model,” said Groveport Madison Superintendent Garilee Ogden. “Virtual online remote instruction is not the most ideal teaching set up, but we do know right now it is the safest way to teach.”
Challenges and creativity
Ogden said one challenge for students in the 100 percent remote learning model is the limited opportunities for social interactions.
“Our teachers have worked hard to find creative solutions to address this concern, but it’s difficult to replicate face-to-face interactions in a virtual world,” said Ogden, who added that a challenge for teachers is providing one-to-one or small group instruction while also providing whole-group instruction. “Students don’t always log-in at designated times for their small group session, which makes it difficult.”
Ogden said student attendance and engagement online is high and she is impressed with the creativity of the teachers.
“Many new teaching tools have been implemented this year, such as the daily use of Google Classroom daily, Pear Deck, Screencastify, and many others,” said Ogden. “Our hope is that we continue to use these tools to engage students regardless of which learning models we’re in at a given time. We’ve been making many more home visits and personal communication with families, which we plan to continue.”
She said the district monitors when students are not logging in. If there are three days of no contact, house visits are made to check on students.
“We want to be sure the kids are okay,” said Ogden.
Ogden said the teaching and learning aspects of remote learning are going well, but the district also makes sure students’ social and physical needs are being met. She gave the example of an Asbury Elementary teacher who, noting the kids are not getting their normal recess time, created a scavenger hunt that kids can do at home as a form of having recess.
“The teacher has the kids go through their homes to find every day items, like an umbrella or a crayon,” said Ogden. “Kids need to have time for fun like this and this is something that can be done safely at home. Plus it gives parents a break.”
She noted that students needing things like speech and occupational therapy are still receiving this help online.
“We are still giving them the support they need,” said Ogden.
Another example of teacher creativity, according to Ogden, is the Mail Time video the high school social studies department puts together to start the day.
“It’s done like a news show that the kids can watch where the teachers review the state standards the kids need to know,” said Ogden. “Afterwards the students then log in with their specific teacher.”
She said students in laboratory classes use live online demonstrations and simulations.
“We also purchased additional software for our related art teams that assist in music performance and physical education,” said Ogden.
She said schools hold morning video meetings where kids get information and announcements.
“We’re want to make it like a normal school day,” said Ogden. “The amount of creativity and thinking outside the box is amazing. If you told me eight months ago we would have to go to 100 percent remote learning I would’ve questioned it. Now I am amazed by the collaboration and idea sharing. It’s gone beyond what was expected a public school would look like online.”
Cruisers with Chromebooks
Ogden said a big plus for the district was the support taxpayers provided with the passage of the operating levy in 2014, which enabled the Groveport Madison Board of Education to purchase Chromebook computers for every student.
“Without that we could not have made such a smooth transition to remote online learning,” said Ogden. “Other schools had to wait a long while to get the computers they needed. We had them already.”
Each student from kindergarten through 12th grade has their own Chromebook computer to use for classes.
“We launched our Cruisers with Chromebooks program in 2017, with middle and high school students taking their computers home nightly and over winter and spring breaks,” said Ogden.
Another plus was a grant obtained by the district’s technology department to provide hot spot Wi-Fi capability where needed for students to allow them online access.
Parents more involved
Ogden said a benefit from the remote online learning is that parent engagement has increased from the normal levels found in the traditional learning model.
“Before the pandemic parents might have to come to school to talk with teachers and that was not always possible,” said Ogden. “Now parents and teachers talk online at convenient times and work to support the children. Attendance at parent/teacher conferences has increased online. Our relationships with parents are better than ever. It’s a partnership to be commended.”
She noted one instance where six district staff members were able to meet online with a parent to help a student.
“It was an intimate, quick meeting where a plan was swiftly put in place to help the student,” said Ogden.
Students’ ability to adapt
Ogden said remote online learning is not ideal for all students and that limited face-to-face interactions with classmates may have an impact on students’ social awareness and skills.
“Some kids need to be in school. But we have to wait until it is safe to do so. We have worked hard over the past two years on developing students’ (and adults’) awareness of themselves and others,” said Ogden. “We will monitor this area very closely when we are able to return to in-person classes.”
When asked if she can see a day in the future when remote learning will be the standard form of instruction rather than using brick and mortar buildings, Ogden said,
“We do see there are students who are doing exceptionally well and may prefer a remote learning model for a large percentage or all of their courses. Anything is possible. However, we have also seen the negative impact of 100 percent remote on our students’ social-emotional learning and mental health.”
Students’ abilities to adapt to the online learning model varies.
“It’s not so much about a particular age group, it’s more about if a student has a safe, designated learning environment and an organized routine,” said Ogden. “Students who are adapting sign in to synchronous teaching sessions, complete work independently, and take advantage of teacher office hours.”
It’s about community and flexibility
Ogden said the community, city of Groveport, and Madison Township have provided support and ideas to the district.
“Everyone is working together. For example, the city of Groveport gave us masks,” said Ogden. “Madison Township gave the district $10,000 to purchase COVID supplies. It definitely is taking a village.”
Once the pandemic fades away and school returns to a traditional model, Ogden said some of the successful ideas used during the remote learning model could be incorporated into teaching in the future.
“It’s about adapting and being flexible,” said Ogden. “Thomas Edison once said, ‘When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this, you haven’t.’”