Fewer students taking part in online learning

District's youngest students get more comfortable with virtual learning, but elementary school principals say fewer families are picking up learning packets and attending Zoom meetings. Superintendent also talks about plans for graduation.

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April 28, 2020 - 10:45 AM

McKinley Elementary School principal Angie Linn, at right, shares a screenshot of kindergarten students and teachers taking part in a Zoom meeting.

A plan to recognize Iola High School’s 2020 graduates could be announced after administrators learn if the governor will relax restrictions on mass gatherings. 

Gov. Laura Kelly is expected later this week to announce plans to start easing the state out of a shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Residents are asked to stay at home except for a few exceptions including going to work or to buy food. Current social distancing guidelines limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people, with a minimum 6 feet of distance between people.

Those rules have thrown events such as graduation ceremonies into doubt. Some districts have announced plans for  virtual or alternative ceremonies, limiting attendance to only a handful at a time.

Superintendent Stacey Fager said he doesn’t want to make plans now only to have to cancel or adjust them if the regulations change. Instead, he and other administrators will wait to see what the governor announces and then will begin to plan accordingly.

“We hope to get clarification by the start of next week,” Fager said. “Once we have direction from the governor, we can get parental feedback and plan quickly.”

MEANWHILE, students, parents and staff continue to adjust to having school at home. Results have been mixed.

Schools delivered their dents Monday. Elementary school students and some middle and high school students receive paper packets filled with assignments, while most older students do their work online

Virtual meetings aren’t required for students, but teachers offer Zoom meetings at various times to give students a chance to see each other and their teachers. .

Preschool and kindergarten students struggled early on but are starting to adapt, McKinley Elementary School principal Angie Linn said. Participation in online meetings varies. Some students can’t use Zoom during the day because of daycare or because older siblings may be using devices, so it’s good to have teachers who are flexible, she said.

But principals Tiffany Koehn at Jefferson Elementary and Andy Gottlob at Lincoln report decreased participation.

The first week that Jefferson offered its packets for parents to pick up, only three families failed to show up. This time, teachers and staff had to deliver 38 packets after families failed to come for them. Later Monday, another 10 or 15 families had returned the previous week’s assignments for grading.

Zoom participation has dropped to just five or six students per class, Koehn said. 

Lincoln also saw a drop in families coming to pick up packets. Staff delivered 30 packets.

Zoom participation also has dropped at Iola Middle School, principal Brad Crusinbery said. 

IHS delivers its paper packets, since most students prefer online assignments, principal Scott Crenshaw said. Monday’s delivery was the final packet, as classes end for seniors on May 6. Teachers and other staff will spend the remainder of the school year working closely with students who are behind, helping them improve their grades. 

Iola High School principal Scott Crenshaw elicits laughs from fellow Zoom participants at a USD 257 board meeting Monday.

STATE OFFICIALS are optimistic classes will return to normal in the fall, but there’s still a possibility that the continuous learning will continue if the pandemic remains or returns.

If that happens, teachers and administrators will be better prepared because of this experience and because they’ll have the summer to think about improvements, Crenshaw said. They’ll also have higher expectations for students, he said.

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