Miamitown Elementary School Head Custodian Jeff Pettit and Secretary Lisa Schille packed supply bags for students on Thursday, April 2. The bags were full of items such as looseleaf paper, crayons, and pencils.
Sydney Murray/The Harrison Press
COVID-19 changes the way students learn
The Ohio Department of Health announced March 30 that school building closures would be extended through May 1. This means, until at least the beginning of May, students at the Southwest Local School District are participating in remote learning.
House Bill 197, passed by the Ohio General Assembly on March 25, also eliminated state-mandated K-12 testing and Ohio’s school district and school building report cards for this school year.
Southwest Superintendent John Hamstra said remote learning has been going better than anticipated and, early on, more than 85 percent of students had picked up their “brain bags” or logged into the digital site being used by teachers.
In grades K-5, teachers put together these brain bags, which are all paper/pencil packets. In grades 6-12, students have their own devices to download assignments and work offline.
Eighth-grade English Language Arts Teacher Becki Vieth teaches five bells per day and students of all levels. She said remote learning has been going well, and some students are engaged who expected to participate.
She has tried to keep her curriculum fluid so students can work more at their leisure, with leeway with their assignments.
Giving them enough work to keep their minds going, but not locking theme down is the balance she hopes to strike, said Vieth.
She is trying to mix up her lessons so they don’t get mundane, and, now that testing is off the table, she said it gives them the option for fun learning opportunities.
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But, although remote learning is going well, Vieth said it’s hard for her not to be with her students. She feels a “profound sadness” about the situation.
“This is not why I became a teacher,” said Vieth. “I love my kids, and I miss them,” adding she loves watching the kids develop academically and socially.
This is the time of year when they have developed relationships with eighth-graders, and it feels like unfinished business, said Vieth.
She hopes after learning is back in the classroom, students will have a new appreciation for everything school can do for them.
Sixth-grade math Teacher Brooke Skelly was hoping students would have been able to get back to school on April 6.
She never imagined they would have a teach-from-home format, hopes the situation doesn’t happen often, but she is embracing it.
Many students have logged on for remote learning, and is reaching out to those who have not.
She thinks there is a learning curve that comes with everything for the first week, and said many students seem to think it’s fun to be in class in their pajamas and with their pets.
“I really didn’t know what to expect either,” she said.
Assistant Superintendent Corinne Hayes said she is proud of her team, and the assignment and projects they are giving to students.
Teachers have shown up with passion and compassion and are trying to make the remote learning experience the best possible for kids, she said.
“I feel really good about where we’re going,” said Hayes.
Hamstra said it is a huge relief for students and teachers not to have stressful state testing and report cards hanging over their heads.
Hayes said it would have been very hard to cover the rest of the material necessary to prepare kids for state testing. Eliminating testing will not affect a student’s ability to move up a grade level or graduate if the student already was on track to do so.
Although state testing is canceled, Advanced Placement Testing will continue. Students will take an abridged 45-minute online version of the test.
The AP tests will be administered in a “lock-down” browser that prevents students from accessing another website.
“This is just a very unique situation that has forced both K-12 education and higher education to become incredibly flexible,” said Hayes.
Remote learning resources
For those who don’t have Internet access at home, the district has extended the wifi coverage in the parking lot between the junior school and high school.The district also has supplied computers to some families of elementary students who need them.
Meanwhile, technology staff members continue to work, and junior high or high school students having issues with their devices can bring them to the high school office. Students also can contact the school to receive help getting items they need, including laptop chargers.
At the elementary level students who need technology support with Southwest devices should call their building principal.
Other items given to students include free books and supplies at Miamitown Elementary School.
The Ohio Department of Education also has a Remote Learning Resource Guide that can be accessed at education.ohio.gov/Top-ics/Student-Supports/Coronavirus.
The district still is working to feed students in need. Hamstra said they projected handing out about 2,500 meals per week, and Director of Operations Adam Lohbeck said they just about have hit that number.
Each child receives five breakfast and five lunch meals weekly.
Lohbeck said Monday will probably continue to be the primary pick up day, but families can also receive meals on Thursdays.
The menu consists of a different breakfast and lunch each day, so students get 10 different meals and variety, he said.
Still, there has been a challenge obtaining certain foods. When an order recently was submitted some items were out of stock, so alternatives had to be determined.
Now that school will be out through May 1, Lohbeck said students will be fed at least until then.
Hamstra said he never thought in his wildest dreams the district would spend an entire quarter learning remotely, and administrators continue to keep an eye on prom and graduation, which are scheduled for May.