Closed doors shouldn’t mean closed minds. But that’s easier said than done as schools around the world have tackled eLearning or distance learning plans over the past several weeks.
While students in Woodstock School District 200 were fortunate to have Chromebooks, maintaining contact with all students never was a given nor was it taken for granted. Making sure each of the 6,300 students are being reached is a major endeavor, but it’s one that school and district staff considered as soon as its school doors were first shut on March 16.
“From the start of eLearning, we wanted to make sure we reached every child in every building,” Superintendent Mike Moan said.
So far, the efforts are paying off. On a weekly basis, District 200 schools have contact rates with students in the high 90% range. Moan said both Creekside and Northwood Middle School have contact rates of about 99% while Woodstock North and Woodstock high schools have contact rates of about 97%.
Moan said classroom teachers let administrators know if a student is missing based on online forums or assignments. Staff then reach out to those families by phone, email or text to get those students back engaging with school.
“This is so important as we continue to support and educate every child each day. The middle school results are phenomenal when we can talk about hundreds of students. Any student we don’t talk to on a given day has multiple people from the building reaching out. That shows the support and caring our staff has for our students. This is why they teach,” he said.
Woodstock High School principal Art Vallicelli said his school’s contact rate is 97%, but it took significant effort to get there.
“Our problem solving team had all members take a section of students not currently engaged in eLearning and they didn’t stop reaching out until we got in touch with someone,” Vallicelli said.
In some instances, they learned of connectivity issues which allowed the district to provide resources in the form of devices or hot spots. Once students were able to connect, it became easier to keep them learning.
“Our teachers’ engagement brought kids back,” Vallicelli said. “Different technologies have made education both possible and exciting for students. When a teacher is doing something innovative, either in school or at home through technology, word spreads, and kids want to be a part of it.”
Darlea Livengood, principal at Woodstock North High School, said her staff members also are checking in on students each day. North has a contact rate of 95% with students meeting virtually with counselors, logging in for classes and meeting with teachers.
“Students are very responsive and are eager to talk to their friends and teachers at school and the interactions are very positive,” she said.
The middle schools also have had similar success with contact rates about 97%. Northwood Principal Bethany Hall said staff including social workers, paraprofessionals and administrators have worked to make sure students understand how to access eLearning and how to get support when they need it.
“Teachers are planning time for virtual meetings, live demonstrations and instruction, message boards, and they are using other resources where students can work together. Relationships, flexibility and creativity have allowed the Warhawks to get eLearning off to an amazing start,” she said.
Michael Wheatley, principal at Creekside Middle School, said one of the keys to success has been creating a structure that students can easily understand. Maintaining relationships and keeping fun virtual activities has also helped the eLearning transition.
“Students start each day with an email and video announcement to help them have a sense of normalcy,” he said. “Our student council has engaged students in virtual spirit weeks, and students also contribute by submitting Pledge of Allegiance videos that are interwoven within our announcement videos.”
While academics still are being stressed, schools are meeting many other needs from providing meals to helping parents with registration, meeting the social emotional needs of special education students while classroom associates are virtually meeting students one-on-one as needs arise
“It’s all hands on deck here to make sure everyone has what they need,” said Keri Pala, principal of Mary Endres Elementary School.
Contact rates with students at both Mary Endres and Verda Dierzen Early Learning Center are about 96%. Tricia Bogott, principal of VDELC, said their challenges are a little different with District 200’s youngest learners, but one of the keys has been teacher teams designing master plans focused on reading, writing and math.
“Daily principal morning messages and digital staff messages also have been integral in keeping the students connected with their school teachers and staff,” Bogott said.