Kaytlyn Meseke, Eleanor Badeker | @kaytlyn_nelle, @ellybadeker
Although the buildings are empty, USD 329 is still educating students through a Continuous Learning Plan.
In mid-March, Gov. Laura Kelly closed all Kansas school buildings for the remainder of the school year because of the coronavirus pandemic, forcing USD 329 and the other school districts to continue students’ education from outside the classroom.
The Kansas State Department of Education required all districts to complete a Continuous Learning Plan (CLP) with specific descriptions of how the district planned to meet requirements from a district, building and classroom perspective. Plans had to be sent to the USD 329 Board of Education for approval and then to the State Board of Education. “This entire process has been tedious and required a significant amount of time with district staff and administration in a series of virtual meetings to plan,” WHS principal Jan Hutley said.
WHS staff meet weekly to discuss improvements and implementation of the CLP.
Hutley said it has been important to maintain a school environment for staff and students. “We work continuously to tailor, modify and improve every aspect of the school learning environment. The richer this environment is with experiences, rigorous and viable curriculum, attentive adults, etc., the more students thrive and are prepared for their futures. The circumstances created by COVID-19 have taken the power of the traditional school environment away from us as educators, and we must work hard everyday to recreate it by solely virtual means.”
In a short period, teachers had to create new lessons to accommodate all students. Some teachers have scheduled weekly meetings with students through Zoom, a video conferencing application, to discuss upcoming assignments and answer questions. Several teachers already had been using Google Classroom earlier in the year for assignments and announcements. Now others have also created Google classrooms to get information to their students.
Superintendent Brad Starnes said the mission is to put no one in the district at risk, students or staff. Instruction changes vary depending on the class, but work is required to be kept under 30 minutes per class daily to decrease stress on students.
WHS physical education teacher Garrett Eck sends workouts to his students through an app called Rack Performance. The students can choose to do 80 percent of the given workout or 25 minutes of exercising.
There have been challenges in transitioning to the CPL while being able to accommodate every student. WHS science teacher Brandi Miller said that some of the biggest challenges for her were getting resources from her classes, deciding what standards to focus on for the remaining year, and finding the best way to reach her students and create meaningful lessons that wouldn’t take longer than 30 minutes a day. “I have been a teacher for 16 years, and coming up with new ideas and activities to do in the classroom is fun. Each group of kids is different so I’m always ready to do something different,” Miller said. “I love to see my students discover, to learn, to work things out, etc, but now I don’t get to see those things first hand, I just get to talk to them via email or Google Hangouts. I am really bummed that my Advanced Biology, and Anatomy kids won’t be able to dissect and we won’t get to take our class trip to Cloud County — those are irreplaceable experiences. I really miss my students.”
Lessons may be different, but students are still accountable for their work. Students’ grades can still go up or down, based on the teacher’s specifications for the participation and effort on assignments. In a message sent out to the district, Starnes said that students may still fail a course if they make no effort to follow the CPL. Kansas State High School Activities Association eligibility rules relating to participation in sports and other activities for next fall are also still in place, so students have to pass classes to continue progress towards graduation.
“We are not unique in this struggle,” Starnes said. “Every chat and articles posted nationally are dealing with grading. We want to keep things normal as much as possible. We want accountability. We want to prepare you for the next chapter in your lives while extending grace and common sense.”
Not only are teachers creating new lessons, but some are also balancing teaching their students while monitoring their own children’s learning. Miller, who has two children, said that some days are more difficult than others and can make her miss details on assignments for her class.
“As a mom, this is really tough; as a teacher, I try to keep this in mind when making my assignments and posing assignments for the students,” Miller said.