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Distance learning at LR schools, now and later

In the Grand Coulee Dam School District, teachers, students, and parents have been navigating the uncharted waters and new paradigm of "distance learning" for the past few weeks during the COVID-19 pandemic, and education leaders expect it to continue as a feature of schooling after the crisis ends.

"I am really proud of the work that we've done through the past few weeks with implementing our distance learning plan," said Kirk Marshlain, principal of Lake Roosevelt Junior/Senior High School. "I have been amazed and thankful for every single one of our teachers and staff members that have really stepped up into an unknown education paradigm and have not only heeded the call without hesitation, they have thrived during this implementation process."

LR Elementary Principal Lisa Lakin echoed that sentiment in her April 27 school board meeting report. "I am so proud of my staff for rolling up their sleeves and jumping right into

new learning," she said. "To say that teachers have gone above and beyond does not even begin to describe what has been happening since March 13th."

Students have been able to check out Chromebook laptops from the school if they need a computer, and efforts have been made to expand internet access to students, with some students still going the paper/pencil route. 

Carrie Derr teaches 20 sixth-grade students in math, English language arts, science, and social studies. 

She said that one advantage to distance learning is that it "allows students freedom to connect online, turn in assignments, etc. when they choose." 

But a disadvantage to it, Derr said, is difficulty connecting, and a "lack of collaboration and communication to discuss, further thinking," Derr said. It's difficult "not being able to address questions in the moment, help, or really teach," she said. "It feels like we are more facilitators of learning."

Derr said she makes a video at the beginning of the week to check in with students, and makes lesson videos as needed, as well as slides for students to follow along and use as a resource.

For her class, work is posted for the week on Monday at 9 a.m. Students have until the following Monday at 8 a.m. to complete assignments and turn them in. There is one assignment for each subject for the week.

Derr said math is a more difficult subject to teach from a distance. 

"I feel that math is a struggle in this online platform as there is not always one way to solve a problem, and not all students learn the same," she said. 

Class meetings and office hours are available via Zoom twice a week for one hour, she said, while most interactions occur in the digital classroom. 

From the teaching perspective, for Derr, some things have remained the same, while others have changed. 

Working mainly from home, Derr said she only goes into the school if she needs to get resources for a student who may not have, or has limited access, to the internet.

"Workflow feels about the same as far as creating lessons, grading, etc," she said. "Schedule is VERY different. I feel connected to my electronic devices 24/7 with notifications of work being turned in, questions asked, comments provided and so on. On average, I spend from about 7 am to 10 pm every day (including Saturday and Sunday) close to a device so I can help, answer questions, etc. right away."

Asked if the students are liking distance learning, Derr said that for her students it is 50/50. 

"Most like being able to work when they want," she said, "but they also miss our classroom and the interactions."

Feedback from parents has been positive, but parents have told Derr that their children miss school, teachers, and friends.

"I am amazed at how quickly teachers and students have adapted to this new learning platform," Derr said, adding that she feels "students are learning, but not at the level that daily face-to-face interactions would provide."

Students may have to get used to distance learning. 

In his May 1 email update to the community, Superintendent Paul Turner said that "Distance learning will become part of the new norm in the future." 

"When (If) we are able to return to school," he wrote, "expect distance learning to continue in some fashion. Students, now is the time you need to become familiar with all the changes and engage in this new learning."

In his report included with the April 27 school board meeting agenda, Tuner wrote that "teaching as we know it is gone, we are now in a new paradigm of education."

Distance learning is a frequent topic at recent school board meetings, which have been held electronically over Zoom.

At the April 27 meeting, School Board Director Ken "Butch" Stanger mentioned a larger school district in the Seattle area talking about expanding virtual learning with "a major transition of students from standard to virtual learning."

Weighing in on the subject, Mark Herndon, the principal for the Alternative Learning Environment alternative school, said that "there is no replacement for a teacher in a classroom with a student. ... Even if everything is online, nothing does better than that human connection of a qualified teacher working through whatever it is with that student, and that relationship."

Turner agreed. 

"There's not just the academic part, but just that social-emotional part and having that connection with our kids is such a huge, huge thing," he said. "We've really gravitated to that in our training on this distance learning. ... If you don't take care of the basic needs of the kids, you'll never get to the academic part."

Turner said he felt that virtual learning will continue in the fall. 

"These teachers have learned virtual wherewithal of how to teach in that realm," he said. "But we're going to be back in the classroom, and they're going to have the one-on-one with their kids, and that's going to be the best possible way to teach moving forward."



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