by Terry Rogers
On Monday, August 17, Milford School District Board of Education reviewed the plan for remote learning for the first six weeks of the 2020-21. According to Dr. Bridget Amory, Director of Student Learning, the learning process in the fall will be much different than it was during the spring.
“One of the things we learned in the spring is that we need routine schedules,” Dr. Amory said. “Students will be required to be present, there will be structured coursework. There will be periods during the day where there is synchronous learning which means the student must be present in class.”
Staff will be required to report August 27 and 28 in order to prepare for remote learning with staff training held August 31 through September 8. Dr. Kevin Dickerson, Superintendent, stated that it is important to have structures in place that allow for teacher collaboration.
“We are hoping that we can learn together and that staff can help each other through this process,” Dr. Dickerson said. “The week of September 9 through the 11, we will begin remote learning with technology handouts, orientation as well as holding virtual meet and greets. Official learning will begin the week of September 14.”
Prior to the discussion, Heidi Maradiaga, a teacher in the Capital School District who lives in Milford, addressed the board.
“As a single parent, I know the challenges many parents are facing right now to find childcare for their kids,” Maradiaga said. “As we go into remote learning, we need to keep in mind when we talk about synchronous learning that we do not have a child sitting in front of a screen for seven hours. Science tells us that kids only focus for a time period equal to three times their age. This means a Kindergarten student can focus for 15 minutes. It is important that movement breaks be added in or kids will not learn, they will view this as torture. I have gifted children at home and they are struggling learning on a computer screen.” Another parent, Kristy Whitelock, asked that learning be offered in an asynchronous format as, while she was working, her son stayed with a family member with little technology knowledge.
Dr. Amory explained that all lessons will be recorded, and available but whether a child does synchronous or asynchronous learning will be on a case-by-case basis. She also stated that the district planned the schedule with attention to how much screen time would be required of each grade level.
“We will work with each student, the teacher, and administration to provide as much flexibility as we can,” Dr. Amory said. “We will also do this based on grade level as we understand younger children may not be as quick to pick up on technology as older children. We will also have office hours available for parents to get the help they need. Right now, those hours are during the school day, but we will try to work with parents to add additional hours. They are also able to email the teacher at any point.”
Jamie Hill, a Kindergarten teacher in Milford, spoke before the presentations as well regarding the need to move into hybrid learning.
“I have no doubt teachers in Milford School District will rise to the occasion with remote learning,” Hill said. “I also recognize the fears that educators face. There are many times I have been faced with fear. I remember my first faculty meeting on an active shooter drill. I remember thinking ‘I honestly have to explain an active shooter to five year olds?’ This is when the news was filled with school shootings. But I did it. I shuffled 22 little hearts into a bathroom and we moved on. Kids are much more resilient than we give them credit for. Just as I was ready to tackle the school shooting fear, I was ready to make this work for small children. There are so many in our community who rely on teachers like me to be their person, their constant. There are too many children who do not learn in a remote setting. My upcoming first grader is one of those. Hybrid is not for everyone. Students and staff should be able to choose whether they do remote or they do hybrid, but we need to get kids back in class.”
After the remote learning presentation, Dr. Dickerson provided information on how the hybrid model would phase in as long as the COVID-19 numbers allowed the district to remain in Scenario 2 as provided by the Department of Education.
“The week of September 21, our intense/complex special needs students will be phased into classrooms with Pre-Kindergarten students starting September 28,” Dr. Dickerson said. “Remote learning is very difficult at the Pre-K level and we feel this is a good plan moving forward. The week of October 5, we will phase in English learners. We plan to begin sending out parent surveys in late-August through mid-September to determine their level of comfort with sending children back to school.”
Based on the survey responses, Dr. Dickerson stated that the district hopes to transition Kindergarten through Grade 3 into the classroom on October 12, Grades 4 and 5 on October 19 and Grades 6 through 8 on October 26. Because of the way high school students take classes, the district felt it would be best to have high school return to the classroom at the start of the second marking period, November 16.
“This is all based on the state’s scenario which could change any day,” Dr. Dickerson explained. “Because we will not be starting students other than those with special needs until September 28, we can return at our next board meeting on September 21 to discuss where things stand.”
Dr. Dickerson explained that this would provide a nine-week period of remote learning.
“This actually exceeds the six weeks we approved at the last board meeting,” Board Member Kris Thompson said. “I like that we are taking a conservative approach. I am pleased with our intense needs, Pre-K and English learner students will be back in the classroom quickly.”
The Board of Education unanimously approved the proposed hybrid learning format that will follow the remote learning period at the beginning of the year.