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Remote instruction provides both challenge and success

Suzette Lowe
Reporter
Jackson Newspapers

With the metric map issued by the West Virginia Department of Education each Saturday evening, school systems must prepare for any eventuality.

Currently, Jackson County is designated as “yellow” on the map which means, with the adoption of the local school entry plan on Oct. 21, all students will attend five days a week in person. This will be the first time since the school year began that all students, except those in virtual or home school, will be attending together.

In the last few weeks, due to being a “red” county, remote learning has been the method of delivering instruction.

Jackson County Superintendent of Schools Blaine Hess said the uncertainty from week to week has proven frustrating for parents, teachers, and the community.

“It’s become clear that schools are probably the safest place for children to be,” he said. “Right now, we only have five cases.”

Despite the reality that the COVID-19 virus in Jackson County is being spread in the community, not in public schools, teachers have had to adapt their methods to the remote learning model.

With this style of education, there have been both challenges and successes. This is the case for both students and teachers.

Jarrett Lough, Matthew Moore, and Davis Haynes, all seniors at Ripley High School, said remote is not the ideal method.

“It’s really a lot more work,” Lough said. “To keep up, I have to spend more hours and keep in contact with teachers.”

Moore agrees that it’s difficult to be on remote learning.

“It takes a lot of self-discipline,” he said. “We do get more one-on-one time with teachers which is helpful but that involves more time for both them and us.”

The e-mail responses from most teachers come quickly according to Haynes.

“Most of our teachers have been on top of things, responding any time, checking in on us,” Haynes said. “It’s still not the same as being in class though, but it is the hand that we were dealt.”

Teachers are finding the same difficulties with time and course management. In addition, there is a great concern for those students who do not have access to the internet.

“The tech department in our school system has accomplished an enormous task,” Ravenswood High School math teacher Toni Burks said. “They were able to roll out thousands of devices to our students in a short amount a time, but we are still struggling with connectivity. So many of our students have inadequate or no internet.”

Jackson County schools received a grant to place “hot spots” in 1,000 or more homes, but these require access to cell phone service. Teachers are providing packets for students and various county locations provide access for downloading materials.

Superintendent Hess said that the technology skills of teachers have improved dramatically.

“With the necessity of finding ways to get information to students in a non-traditional way, our teachers have absolutely expanded their knowledge and expertise,” he said. “That is something positive that has come out of this situation.”

Burks said that she has been conducting video conferences with students on a regular basis. It allows her to present new content, review homework, answer questions, and work with those students needing extra help.

“I still need to spend in-person time with my students,” she said. “Working collaboratively with my fellow high school math teachers has helped reduce the workload. We discuss strategy and courseware we’ve developed. Every other weekend, my Ripley High counterpart and I have a mini-conference.”

One of the newest teachers in the county, Hannah Hill, sees some positives in the remote model.

“My second graders may not be receiving traditional instruction, but they are learning,” she said. “I connect with my students at least three times a week with Google Meet and review past concepts while introducing new ones. Right now, it’s the best we can do, and we can make it a success, even if it’s not the usual way of doing things.”

One aspect Hill says her students miss is the social interaction with their friends and teachers.

Melinda Yates said that, while her two elementary-aged children are “doing ok” with remote learning, they do miss their friends.

“I feel good with their progress for the most part,” Yates said. “My children miss their teachers and the normal ways of doing things. I am a bit concerned about their preparation for next year.”

As long as COVID-19 is a factor, no one sees that sense of normalcy coming soon.

Working with the Jackson County Health Department has been a big part of the job for Hess. He commends the local department for the diligence and dedication to contact tracing that has helped mitigate the impact of cases brought to schools.

Once a case is reported, the principals and health department work quickly to identify those which the student or staff has been in contact. The next question asked regards the school bus.

“There has been less impact on busses,” Hess said. “More students are being self-transported this year.”

Having students back in the classroom is the goal of every administrator and teacher in the school system.

“We are pleading with our citizens to do all the things we should be doing,” Hess said. “Wear masks, be aware of surroundings and groups, social distance. Our ability to go to school is directly linked to the community. The community is what drives the map’s designated color.”

To follow COVID-19 cases in the school system, go to boe.jack.k12.wv.us, select COVID Dashboard from the menu options.

In My Opinion...

“When we are totally remote, our days as educators are spent online, making videos, live team meetings, answering calls and texts late at night, face-timing with students. We make packets for students that may be in daycare or without internet. Our students are the reason we’re working so hard, the reason we are learning new ways to do things. They are just simply the reason.”

Missy Campbell, fourth-grade teacher,

Evans Elementary

“I believe that most of my students were prepared for the possibility of remote learning. Both our teachers and students did a great job front loading or teaching technology at the beginning of the year. My biggest concern is bringing the virus home to my family. My second biggest concern is my students falling behind in math and language arts. Some of my students are struggling, some doing well with remote learning. Transitioning from middle to high school is always hard and my job as an eighth-grade teacher is to help them become more independent and responsible. I hope they’re ready.”

Jason Gump, eighth-grade social studies teacher, Ravenswood Middle

“Looking back, if our students had been more accountable when we first had to do a form of remote teaching in March, we and they would have been more prepared now. I do feel that our students, parents, and teachers are somewhat on ‘the same page’ now. We all want our students to learn. Planning for every situation possible, acquiring materials for online, making materials accessible to everyone, provide support, adapting science labs to conduct at home are some of the challenges. I have found good resources though, but even using every mode of communication, I fear they won’t receive information I’m sharing.”

Brenda Brown, a sixth-grade science teacher,

Ripley Middle

“It’s a lot harder being in remote learning. If you get behind, even a little, it’s tough to get caught up. Self-discipline is not an easy thing and there’s a lot more work to do. I’d much rather be back in the regular classroom. I think just about everybody would.”

Aubrey Haskins, ninth-grade student,

Ripley High