In Sierra County and across the country, students, teachers, parents and school staff are creating new ways and adapting old one, launching into the 2020-21 school year just begun. Though the goal is to transition back to full, in-school instruction, our district nevertheless had to make a plan that fulfilled the mandate to educate while still adhering to the public health restrictions currently in force.

During the summer the district developed a hybrid model plan for going forward into the new school year, as required by the state. In adhering to classroom capacity and distancing requirements, a way of delivering education necessitated reliance on virtual systems. Using federal money available from the CARES Act, the district purchased devices for every student, iPads for Kinder and Pre-K students and laptops for all others, on which they could access internet-based education systems.

The main platform purchased by the district to build our remote learning around is the. Schoology Learning Management System.

Every student in the district has been provided access to this system. On logon, they will see a personalized course dashboard that organizes all the classes they are registered in for the semester. Groups such as sports teams or other student groups, such as FFA are also listed and accessible. Students can see their complete record of grades, resources, assignments and other information. Teachers can leave announcements for their classes and can individualize their class pages in many ways. Though some are using Zoom for class meetings, this is also available on Schoology. A calendar provides easy reference for when meetings, small group conferences, or full class sessions are scheduled and when assignments are due. Daily and weekly instruction and assignments are posted, in detail and as specific as needed by the teacher for any specific class.

For each class, students can also access the course syllabus, class and general attendance policy, they can also be flagged and notified there of overdue assignments. Course materials and resources are listed and either available there, or links provided to where they are located. Teachers, including educational assistants (EA’s), and student teachers are listed, with contact information. Messaging between teachers and students can also be done on Schoology. and messages can be left for teachers, and live conferencing can be done on Schoology.

The full range of functionality offered in the Schoology platform, and creative ways it can be utilized are still being explored and discovered.

There are other “virtual” tools used in the schools, some new, like the Zoom meeting and conferencing platform that is currently used by the school board to allow for public attendance at meetings. Others, like Edgenuity a K-12 resource, is used extensively at our schools for credit recovery, technical, advanced, and career-oriented subjects, where students can perform both remedial and accelerated work.

While the goal is to return back to a full in-school model of education, the changes we are currently seeing brought on by the pandemic restrictions are likely to have a lasting impact. In fact, the current situation has only accelerated the institutionalization of changes that have been underway for years. Online and other virtual tools will likely always remain in the “arsenal” for educators to use to engage with students and enhance their educational experience and set of opportunities.

As with anything new, there are always bugs to work out. Our own hybrid plan, and the technology used to support it are no exceptions. Everyone involved, students, teachers, administrators and staff are all treading completely new ground and creating the pathway as they go.

There are unintended benefits that come from creating and instituting these new approaches to education. There will be missteps, mistakes will be made. These are uncharted waters, after all. Finding solutions, discovering new methods and exploring exciting new ideas to correct these is part of the process.

Students will be a big part of this, with lessons learned far outside of and in addition to their classes. Adaptability, dealing with the unexpected and new, collaborative problem solving and innovation will be ongoing. Teachers, students, staff and parents will all be team players in this process. Traditional classes with regular coursework as well as looking and developing new ways will both be important in building on and improving our students educational experience.

One important thing to remember as students, families, teachers and staff as well as the entire community works through this, is to communicate. This is something all at the schools, from the superintendent through every teacher and staff member have asked. If you encounter a problem, or have an idea, communicate it. Be positive, be supportive and be encouraging. Our students deserve no less.

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