Virtual lunches, buses for Wi-Fi, canceled proms: Going online ‘a challenge,’ but schools adjust

Northmont students (clockwise from left) Reid Harrison, 7, Dane Harrison, 9, Owen Sanders, 11 and Finn Harrison, 8, do schoolwork at their kitchen table at home. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Northmont students (clockwise from left) Reid Harrison, 7, Dane Harrison, 9, Owen Sanders, 11 and Finn Harrison, 8, do schoolwork at their kitchen table at home. SUBMITTED PHOTO

With Ohio K-12 buildings now closed by the state until at least May 4, schools are tweaking their online education features, offering staff more training and canceling major events.

Dayton Public Schools is focused on the coming weeks, encouraging students to continue online lessons through the MindPlay and ALEKS learning platforms, while training teachers to improve individual online teaching skills.

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But the district also recognizes the sudden unexpected shift to online learning might leave some behind, so DPS is already planning for next fall.

“Next year, the first six weeks of school will be an end-of-the-year standards review from the previous year or subject area,” Dayton Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said this week. “For example, the fourth-grade math teacher will teach a third-grade unit that reviews all the standards missed since March 16 … Curriculum is working with teachers that will create these units for the district to use.”

Multiple school districts said the first efforts at online lessons have gone relatively well, but they’re working hard to make sure students don’t fall through the educational cracks in these final weeks of the school year.

“We feel communication will be key in making online learning a success, for however long it continues,” Troy Superintendent Chris Piper said. “… If a teacher sees a student is falling behind, we are asking them to reach out to the student’s family to see how we can help facilitate the learning process.”

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Centerville Superintendent Tom Henderson said the district provided Wi-Fi hotspots for families that lacked internet access, and is encouraging students to reach out to their principal if problems continue.

He said some staff had online teaching experience but acknowledged it’s not simple.

“Going completely online has been a challenge for some,” Henderson said. “It’s really a paradigm shift in how we do things. Moving completely to a remote learning platform is a lot of work for our staff, students and parents. The teachers miss their ‘kids’ and the students miss their friends and teachers.”

Kettering schools created an email address (kcscovid19response@ketteringschools.org) as well as a phone helpline for families with school technology issues. The phone line (937-499-2626) is staffed from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and spokeswoman Kari Basson said the district has already helped hundreds of families with technology problems.

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Also on the tech front, Dayton Public Schools plans to park Wi-Fi-equipped school buses in certain neighborhoods at specific times each week to increase student access to scheduled Google Hangout-based lessons.

After the state extended the school closures through April, Kettering Fairmont High School also canceled its prom, musical and planned ceremonies for scholar athletes and career-tech graduates. The May 20 graduation ceremony is still up in the air.

“It is not easy to make decisions like this because we know these events mean a lot to our students,” Fairmont Principal Tyler Alexander said in a letter to families. “But we are working hard to make decisions that will keep our students and community safe during these trying times.”

Most schools have canceled all April extracurricular events — a few events will go online — and most are making contingency plans in case May-June graduation ceremonies can’t happen on time, in person.

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While most school districts are doing online education, Mad River schools is sticking with its take-home packets, to make sure families lacking good internet access aren’t left out. The first set of assignment packets is due April 13, and a second round will be due May 4. The district will announce its plan for drop-off and pickup of materials on Friday.

“Our teaching staff members will be available to students during normal school hours through email, Classdojo, Remind, or the other electronic platforms that have been utilized by our staff over the past two weeks,” Superintendent Chad Wyen said.

Vandalia-Butler Superintendent Rob O’Leary balanced the philosophical and the practical in a note to families this week. He encouraged students and families to use this time to look at things they’ve taken for granted in life, keep things in perspective and savor unexpected extra family time.

But like other leaders, O’Leary emphasized that while buildings are closed, education continues.

“It is important that students continue to complete work during this time. School continues, just in a different way,” O’Leary said. “We will be sending fourth quarter report cards at the end of the year.”

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Northmont Superintendent Tony Thomas said school staff “made a very smooth transition into online learning,” in part because of preparation that had been done for a remote learning drill. Students all have iPads, making the process easier.

“Teachers have been recording themselves teaching lessons, reading books and explaining how to use the tools,” Thomas said. “The district has offered training on how to use Apple and Google capabilities for many years.”

Both Northmont and Kettering are moving their kindergarten and first grade students to online learning as well now that the state shutdown has been extended.

Not all the messages schools are sending are purely about learning. Beavercreek and Springboro schools recently warned families that school grounds and athletic facilities are closed and should not be student gathering places in this time of social distancing. Troy schools are distributing meals for students in need every Monday at six schools.

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And teachers do more than just teach. Centerville staff are reaching out to students remotely, Henderson said, “just to touch base in non-academic ways to show support.” Springboro schools spokesman Scott Marshall said teachers are holding “virtual lunches” with students, as well as encouraging optional assignments, such as writing letters to residents in nursing homes.

School leaders repeatedly thanked teachers, staff, students and families as everyone adjusts to a new educational model and waits for news on proms, graduation ceremonies, and whether anyone will return to their school building this spring.

“As we continue to work through the COVID-19 pandemic, we appreciate your patience,” said Wyen, the Mad river superintendent. “This is something that none of us have ever experienced in our lifetime and we must work together to get through this.”

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