It’s not just a new school year coming up; it’s a new way of schooling.
Local districts are preparing to implement distance learning to start the upcoming academic year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced that schools within counties on the state’s watch list can’t open for in-person instruction until the county has been off the watch list for at least 14 days – Yuba and Sutter counties both remain on the monitoring list.
Here’s what a few local school districts had to say this week about distance learning plans:
Yuba City Unified School District
Pamela Aurangzeb, assistant superintendent of educational services at Yuba City Unified School District, said during the last school year schools held students “harmless” – which meant that students wouldn’t earn worse grades than what they were on track to receive before schools closed to in-person instruction due to COVID-19.
This time around, things have changed.
“The kids have to login, they have to do their work, they have to put the time and effort into their courses,” Aurangzeb said.
She said teachers are also required to have daily interaction with their students, assignments will be given and feedback will also be provided.
There will also be interaction with other students in the class, Aurangzeb said.
She said it’s similar to a Zoom meeting, however they use Google Meets, and it will allow the students to see each other and have a discussion.
“To maintain school connectedness and social emotional (wellbeing), they need other people and they need to be able to interact with peers and talk about school,” Aurangzeb said.
If a teacher has concerns about a student, she said they will have a counselor work with the student online and help build a relationship and engage them.
Elementary school students will be checking in with their teacher multiple times a day for different content areas – for example, they may have a language arts lesson in the morning, complete and submit those assignments, and then log back in for a math lesson in the afternoon and complete those assignments. Aurangzeb said the teacher would go over what the students did the following day.
High school students would be virtually meeting with each of their teachers, similar to a typical school day.
Aurangzeb said there is also a concern about learning loss, so the schools will be conducting tests to see where the students are at and accelerate learning for those who suffered learning loss during the COVID-19 closures in the spring.
If a student isn’t showing up for their virtual classes or isn’t submitting assignments in a three-day period, the schools will be reaching out and attempting to get those students to engage, she said.
“The only thing you can really do then is work with the family – what is holding that student back? Are they struggling with WiFi? Do they need additional intervention support? … And eliminate those barriers,” Aurangzeb said.
If a family is struggling to align their schedule with the class schedule, Aurangzeb said she recommends that the family contact the teacher to help them understand the situation.
“Is it going to be a situation where they will take a video-taped lesson? The parent and teacher just need to communicate on the expectations … so the teacher can make that situation work best for each child,” Aurangzeb said.
While the district is providing Chromebooks for students, they will also be providing students who may not have internet with WiFi hotspots.
Aurangzeb said there are also other options for students who don’t have access to WiFi, such as providing assignments and activities on thumb drives or having teachers call students and give textbook or workbook assignments.
She said they will continue to provide grab-and-go meals for students, however, all the details have yet to be worked out.
“Based on the ed code, the expectation for teachers and students will be very different so hopefully they have a different experience with distance learning,” Aurangzeb said. “It’s not the same (as in-person instruction), we’re not trying to argue that it is the same, but it’s all we have right now and we do plan to have a strong implementation.”
YCUSD is scheduled to start on Aug. 12 – with the exception of Albert Powell High School and Yuba City Independence Academy, which start on Aug. 6.
Marysville Joint Unified School District
Gary Cena, superintendent of Marysville Joint Unified School District, said in a letter to MJUSD stakeholders that school sites will be reaching out to families with information on school registration, Chromebook checkout, AERIES registration, school lunches and more.
Cena said schools want to work with families and accommodate their needs as best as possible.
“The elementary students will have one teacher and they take all of their course subjects in a contained (virtual) classroom with interaction through and with their teacher,” Cena said. “The high school students will interact with all of their teachers.”
According to the letter, the virtual school day is planned to mirror the structure of a regular school day as students will virtually attend class from about 8 a.m. through 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. – depending on the grade level.
“While students may not be in live classes all day long, they will have a bell schedule of classes daily to check in with their teachers to assure learning and progress are occurring,” according to the letter.
Cena said one of the key concerns is keeping students from falling behind and learning loss from the previous school year.
Early on, he said they will be assessing students’ performance and targeting to meet particular needs and measuring growth throughout the school year.
He said school staff will also be vigilant in identifying students that are not engaged and reach out to those students and families to help connect them with the school and engage with learning.
He said they have also obtained a program that provides students access to reading materials – like what they may find in a library – which can also help mitigate learning loss.
The district will also be checking out Chromebooks to students. According to the letter, to help remove some of the oversight for working parents, teachers can use the Chromebook to track their students’ progress and time on task.
There are also a limited number of hotspots for students who may not have WiFi access.
According to the letter, if families are delayed in receiving connectivity, paper-based options comparable to the online program will be available.
Cena said meal services will also be available for students.
“Our shared purpose for the 2020-21 school year is to slow the spread of COVID-19, ensure the health and safety of our students and staff, maintain relationships and facilitate student learning,” Cena said. “... Though improvements have been made, the opening of this school year faces unprecedented challenges. Thank you for your patience, cooperation and resolve as we all work together to persevere through obstacles toward providing quality instruction to students while we endeavor to ensure everyone’s health and safety.”
School is scheduled to start on Aug. 12 for the district.
Wheatland Union High School District
Nicole Newman, superintendent of Wheatland Union High School District, said the district has obtained technology for teachers so they can record their lessons and continue teaching as if they are in the classroom.
Some of those tools include a device that’s like a drawing tablet, which can be useful for things like math and science, along with programs to record lessons and check students’ understanding.
Newman said they will have live check-ins everyday – they are working on modifying their bell schedule a little bit, she said, but it will be consistent so parents know what to expect.
She said counselors will be checking grades and will have academic intervention if students are falling behind.
Newman said they also have staff that will be checking in with students on the social emotional side.
The district will also be distributing Chromebooks to students and have hotspots available for students who need them.
They’re also exploring the possibility of sending a bus that has WiFi to the more rural areas, Newman said.
She said meal service will also be available to students.
“Communication and being proactive when their kids are struggling (is key),” Newman said. “Just call the office and they can point (people) in the right direction. We’ve got multiple people on campus that can help kids.”
The school year is scheduled to start on Aug. 12 for WUHSD.