DISTANCE LEARNING MODEL
Is New Heights Offering opportunities to learn from home and is this something New Heights specializes in?
Prior to the pandemic, few schools, other than authorized online schools, had distance learning as an option. The more traditional way to learn is obviously to attend school in person 5 days per week within your local community. This model still makes sense, as one of the reasons for this is for people to become socialized; meaning to learn to be around, work with, and get along with others. The concept of being isolated at home and doing everything alone doesn’t really make much sense, except of course during times like these where we are actually being required to stay home to remain safe and hopefully prevent the spread of disease.
Our school’s best teaching model is to have students at school, forming relationships with their classmates and also with their teachers. When you take that away, our school looks very different. That said, we are still striving to connect with our students daily in meaningful ways when we can. Our distance learning model is based on the fact that our students will typically do better when they come to school and are under our care, but currently they can’t. We also know that all students do not have access to the same level of technology, WiFi or internet service, have the same level of skill on technology, have the same level of motivation, or have someone in the home who can assist them when they get into more complicated lessons. For those reasons and more, we are at our best when students come in person, but we have a very thoughtful distance learning plan.
So what platform is New Heights using to deliver instruction?
Basically, our distance learning plan is simple. Students have a Google Classroom and Gmail account and will receive daily interaction opportunities with each of their teachers through this vehicle, including assigned work and feedback. Our school is not teaching synchronous lessons because of all of the variables I mentioned above. To expect an entire class of 4th graders or 7th graders to be required to sign on for a one-time lesson at an exact time of day would not be fair. So, our teachers schedule times for students to join them live via Google Meet corporately if they can, but they will also schedule individual times in cases when family schedules won’t allow for their children to meet with the rest of the class. This ensures that no student will be left out because of home circumstances.
How do the teachers reach the students?
Our teachers in many cases will record lessons that can be watched at home at any time, so families with variable schedules can figure out how to make this work. In most cases, teachers are providing all the materials that students will need to be successful in the class. For example, many teachers will use PowerPoint or Google Slides to present the information to their students in place of books or packets. The teacher will assign these lessons and materials and will send them out electronically to the students’ Gmail accounts. This makes life simple in the sense that families don’t have to go out and shop for and purchase these materials. We know many families are having financial hardship right now and so we will provide what is needed to the home at little or no expense.
What if my child and I don’t know how to do E-Learning and struggle with technology?
We have put together a simple distance learning bootcamp for our families. We will invite our families to come into the school with your own devices, if you have them, and teach you about our Google Classroom platform. We will teach you everything you need to know to get started, and afterward will connect with you at home to offer you the little technical tweaks that will keep you and your child moving forward. There is always a learning curve, but we created our platform with our families specifically in mind. The vast majority of our families are doing very well with distance learning, and many students are actually doing better from home than when they were here in person; which is a complete surprise to us.
How much work is assigned and what is the time commitment per day?
People don’t realize how much time is, for lack of a better way to put it, wasted during a normal school day when students attend in person. That is largely because teachers in traditional schools may have as many as 35 students in a classroom, meaning there are lots of interruptions, noises, pauses waiting for students to settle in, questions asked needing answers, etc., not to mention passing time, lunch, nap time and others.
When students learn from home alone, they won’t have to wait in long lines or for other students to stop fidgeting etc. So, what typically takes about 6.5 hours in person takes more like 3 hours per day alone; maybe even less. Of course, there are many variables, including intelligence, speed of technology, aptitude, motivation, prior knowledge, and one’s ability to avoid the unavoidable distractions that are present in most of our homes.
Our teachers prepare lessons to last for about 25-30 minutes per lesson, understanding that the attention span for kids at home is probably no more than that. Elementary students will get 3-5 lessons per day, so they should plan on spending about 3 hours per day, either all at once or in short bursts; that is up to each family.
Students in grades 6-12 should expect an assignment from each teacher (6) each day. Our secondary teachers try to plan lessons/work that will take about 30 minutes per class per day. So again, secondary students, on average, should plan for between 2.5 to 3 hours per day, either all at once or in segments.
What if my child struggles and needs to meet with his or her teachers?
As mentioned above, teachers may schedule live sessions for those students who can login and join the class, but they will also hold “office hours” or schedule times with individual students or small groups so the students can get help in a virtual face-to-face meeting. Students can also send messages via Google Hangout, which is a lot like Messenger, or they can email or call their teachers. Our teachers typically maintain normal school hours, but some teachers are more willing than others to meet at night or even on a weekend in special cases. We do expect our students to try to maintain a routine so that late nights or weekends are not expected of our teachers. We will offer some suggestions to what a routine schedule could look like if your family needs some guidance.
What if our family doesn’t have any technology?
Most people have developed a dependency on some form of technology these days. Most families have cell phones, Ipads, Chromebooks, or laptops or desktops. Almost all homes that have children in them have some sort of gaming console. Any and all of those devices will work, but ideally, the home would have either a desktop, laptop, tablet or Chromebook computer. If not, the school has some devices it can lend out, but the school is not Best Buy, simply meaning we are not handing out brand new devices to the complete satisfaction of each individual. We have offered many families a nice desktop computer, mouse, keyboard and monitor, only to have the offer rejected. The offer is made in an attempt to assist the children of the home to stay up on his or her studies during this tough time. The devices we are offering will surely do that. They are intended for education, not hitting the cyber streets in Grand Theft Auto V. Hopefully this answers your question. We are not currently offering to pay for home internet connections, but there are subsidized (free) plans for families to get connected when they have limited financial means. We can direct families to those resources.
How Long will distance learning go on?
New Heights started this school year in hybrid, having students in person for 2 days per week and delivering distance learning to them 3 days per week; meaning school was still required 5 days per week. As the number of positive cases rose to staggering levels, school officials finally had to change to distance learning for all. The number of positive cases in our county per 10 thousand residents is what guides the model school are in. Once the number per 10K reaches 30, elementary can remain in hybrid, but 7-12 must go to distance learning. Once the number reaches 50 per 10K, ALL students go to distance learning. As I am writing this, the number of positive cases per 10K in Washington County is 120; more than twice as high as it needs to be to warrant distance learning according to the governor’s order, which is what schools are expected to follow.
We hope to return to hybrid, and in person full time eventually, but we have to wait for the numbers to reach safe levels consistently for at least 3 weeks before considering a change. We are hopeful that sometime during the 3rd quarter we will be able to start bringing students back to school for hybrid, in person learning.
The local and national news is telling everyone that students aren’t spreaders and should be back in schools, is this true?
Like all people, teachers and school officials are subjected to the same information everyone else gets. Today, everyone is telling everyone else to “follow the science.” If that was all that was needed, wouldn’t we be out of this mess by now? News outlets seem to change their mind as to what constitutes news every day. The news is just as responsible for scaring the public as the pandemic itself. The main issue forcing schools to close is each school’s ability to offer a solid, safe education to the students-taught by licensed teachers. The children may not be getting the virus or even spreading it, but the teachers have gotten it, or have been exposed to someone in the community who tested positive. When that happens, the teachers have to stay home and quarantine for 2 weeks. When they are out, there are no replacements. The main reason schools can’t run safely is the logistical difficulty in having a healthy staff every day, including administrators, teachers, paraprofessionals, custodians, food service, bus drivers, and anyone else who contributes to keeping our schools open and running. When schools suffer a breakout of the virus, it spreads very quickly and could force a school to close a classroom, entire hallway or section of building, or the entire school literally overnight. That isn’t good for anyone. So regardless of what the news says, remember that news outlets are more than capable of distorting information or withholding facts that our community members need to make informed decisions. It is hard to find a news story anymore that doesn’t have an opinion buried in it somewhere. Our school will open for full-time in person learning when we are confident that we can do so safely with our highly qualified staff in position. Hopefully, that makes some sense. Opening only to close because of an outbreak or inserting unqualified substitutes into the classes when we can find one isn’t anywhere near as effective as having our actual staff offering online classes. Our current model (intact) is much better than a duct-taped program of substitutes and chaos.
If attending school isn’t safe, why are the private schools open?
The answer is simple; private schools are funded by the tuition collected from families and the schools won’t be able to collect tuition and remain open if they don’t offer what families want. This is not a criticism. All businesses need to receive revenue to remain open. Private schools are like local restaurants and other businesses in the sense that, with no customers, they can’t survive. Most people rely on the public-school system for their education, which is paid for through local and state taxes, which are paid out to the schools in the form of revenue, meaning schools are like a branch of government. It would be devastating to the economy to shut down the entire school system and not fund the schools because a large segment of the workforce in any state is the education system. Public schools have continued to receive payments from the government during the pandemic, but are then expected to offer in-person learning as described above when it is safe to do so, but during times of extremely high positive cases, public schools are required to offer distance learning activities, which has never before been done on this scale. Public school teachers and administrators have very quickly changed their models to accommodate families who want or need to learn from home. The public-school employees are working harder than ever trying to meet the needs of their students in ways they have never tried before, both in person and virtually. Private schools may not have the infrastructure in some cases to do this, so the differences are obvious. Private schools are also not under the same legal obligations as the public schools. Both are viable and families are fortunate to have the two options to choose from.