Chromebook

Jamie Conklin (right, parent of River Valley sophomore Connor Johnson) picks up a chromebook from Administrative Assistant Tammie Schmidt on March 30.

Although all Michigan Schools have been closed since classes ended on March 13, there’s still lots of learning going on at local districts.

On Thursday, April 2, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed Executive Order 2020-35, which orders all K-12 school buildings to close for the remainder of the school year — unless restrictions are lifted — and ensures continuing of learning by setting guidelines for remote learning. District facilities may be used by public school employees and contractors for the purposes of facilitating learning at a distance while also practicing social distancing.

State Rep. Brad Paquette of Niles announced on Thursday, April 2, that the State Legislature has reached a bipartisan agreement with the governor regarding education response in the wake of school closures brought on by coronavirus.

The agreement closes all public and private school buildings for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year unless they are later deemed safe. It also forgives 15 days of instruction beyond the nine snow days currently allowed under state law. School districts are required to use resources from days that have been waived to ensure all hourly and contracted employees are fully compensated.

“It’s unfortunate, but school closures were ultimately necessary,” said Paquette, a former teacher. “Now it’s incumbent on us to ensure students receive the best education they can at home during this difficult time. The silver lining in this crisis could be a new focus on 21st Century infrastructure such as rural broadband to assuage internet needs for e-learning and innovative methods of instruction.”

To allow for home-learning options, school districts are granted a waiver from requiring students to be physically in their school buildings. Education plans should try to address the needs of all students including special education and students who lack access to technology.

Paquette also said school districts will be allowed to begin the 2020-2021 school year in August, prior to the Sept. 7 Labor Day holiday, to make up for learning loss that has resulted from the time out of school this year.

The following are summaries of some of the remote learning programs under way in the Bridgman, New Buffalo and River Valley public schools ahead of the April 2 action in Lansing:

BRIDGMAN

Superintendent Shane Peters said the Bridgman Public Schools are “providing remote learning opportunities to all of our students.  We are providing 100-percent Free and Appropriate Public Education to our students. 

Peters said the teaching staff  has worked countless hours to ensure that Bridgman students are receiving educational opportunities that they deserve.

“I am so proud and truly amazed at the work that our building principals and teachers have done to transform their educational environments into a virtual environment. We hear from students and parents that these Remote Learning Opportunities bring a sense of normalcy to our students in this unsettling time.”

Peters aid the administration has worked tirelessly to ensure that all students have internet connectivity. 

“Our entire staff is ‘thinking outside of the box’ to provide opportunities and meet the needs of all of our students and families that we serve,” he stated.

Bridgman Elementary Principal Lori Graves said the BES staff has been using some very creative ways to connect to all students, parents and each other. 

“When we first received word that we were going into a three-week closure, the staff made sure that everyone in grades 1-4 had their iPad or Chromebook to take home. Bridgman is making sure all students who need the internet are able to get access. Hotspots were given out and more have been ordered,” she said. 

Graves said all teachers have Google Cclassroom where they can specifically work with students by posting assignments daily.

“We are doing this in all core and specials areas.”

According to Graves, teachers communicate with their students daily using the following online applications: See Saw, Flip-it, Moby Max, Facebook, Remind, Zoom and other.  Many have posted daily videos of themselves teaching lesson.

“I felt it was also very important for the staff to feel connected to each other,” Graves noted. “We hold weekly Zoom meetings, and I created a staff Facebook page. Staff has been tremendously supportive of both families and each other.”

Reed Middle School Principal John Truesdell said the every student at the middle school has one-to-one capability via a device when it comes to remote education.

“One of the advantages of that is that we can control their desktop background image,” he said.

After the last day of classes on March 13 Truesdell said one of the first things they did was create a universal background image that could be used to give students direction on how remote learning would work.

“We have a daily reminder for them to go in and do their work once they open their laptops,” he said.

There also is a button on the desktop students can click on to access the F.C. Reed Middle School Remote Learning Dashboard.

“This is basically a Google sheet that we use collaboratively with our teachers … Every student’s schedule is posted on here and students are responsible for going to this site every day and accessing their lessons,” he said.

The Dashboard is updated every day, and Truesdell said educators are trying to keep students in a routine as similar as possible to what they would experience at school.

“We expect all of our students to complete al of their remote learning every day. We know that’s a challenge, but we’ve had a lot of supports in place (such as giving out mobile hot spots and making teachers available from 8 a.m. to 3 pm. each day).”

He said work turned back in online is currently being “graded” using a credit, no-credit system.

Truesdell said the school counselor also is available for students to contact every weekday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (and beyond those hours as well).

Bridgman High School Principal Gerald Heath said the remote learning program at the high school is similar to the middle school. 

“We have a remote learning dashboard that has a link to every class that we have in the building. Students can click on their classes and it takes them to the medium that teachers are using to communicate assignments and expectations,” he said. “Most of our teachers are using Google Classroom and a couple of them have been using Google Docs. I know some of my teachers have had zoom meetings that include 40 to 50 students.”

Heath said the special education department has put together a homework wall to help their students stay organized. 

“Our teachers have been working hard learning different online supports to deliver instruction. They have also been creative. For example, the AP Stats class did an assignment using COVID-19 statistics,” he said.

Heath said school counselors have also been working hard putting together social and emotional resources for students.

NEW BUFFALO

New Buffalo Elementary Principal Adam Bowen said third- through fifth-grade students took their Chromebooks home when school closed.

He said paraprofessionals assisted teachers on the last day of classes to create packets of of reading, writing and math activities for all students pre-kindergarten through second grade and those in third through fifth grade who do not have Internet access.

“All teachers sent home usernames and passwords to students on the last day so they could access to online programs (such as) Razkids, Smarty Ants, Achieve 3000, IXL, Studyisland, Exact Path, Extra Math, Pearson Realize, Writing City, and ST Math.”

Bowen said each grade level has been emailing assignments to parents and students at the beginning of each week with teachers available via Internet/email to answer or provide support as needed.

He said specials teachers have been emailing various grade levels and supporting activities students can do in physical education, art, media center, guidance class, Spanish, and music at home.

“I have been putting those in my weekly communication to parents as well as posting them on Facebook once I receive them,” he added.

Bowen said teachers have been videoconferencing with their students via zoom or Google hangouts and emailing them. Google classroom is being used to assign and submit assignments as well as Google drive.

New Buffalo Middle School Principal Lindsey Diebolt said remote learning at the school has included:

• Google classroom to provide assignments tied to state standards.

• Flipgrids to share information as a class using audio/visual.

• Studyisland to provide students with activities tied to state standards based on where they are as learners.

• And teachers starting to use virtual meeting software such as Google Meet and Zoom to hold class lessons/discussions.

New Buffalo High School Principal Wayne Butler said educators are providing enriching materials which serve to provide routine, structure and normalcy.

“We want them to maintain positive habits of mind and keep their relationships that teachers/students work so hard to establish,” he said.

Teachers also are helping AP and dual enrollment students prepare for upcoming tests.

He noted that the College Board has modified the upcoming spring tests to limit what is being tested and also allowing an online format.

“Teachers are providing students with the materials they need and schooling them in the format of the test. Our AP teachers met this morning (on Zoom) to discuss how they are preparing students, given the new format and parameters.”

Butler said the school is checking in on students we identified before we left on March 13th as those needing extra support.

“Our social worker and all staff are involved in this in some way. We have been communicating/sharing who we have not heard from at all as well.”

He said teachers and staff members are providing constant encouragement to parents and students in the form of emails, Facebook posts and virtual class meetings.

“I sent an email to all seniors, promising that we will have a graduation. We will make it happen!” Butler said.

“Finally, I sent an email to all of the high school parents to ask them if they need anything, have questions or just need to talk — reach out. The overwhelming message from parents has been that they appreciate all of the teachers’ efforts.”

RIVER VALLEY

River Valley Schools Superintendent Will Kearney sent the following information on emote learning at the districts various grade levels

• Chikaming Elementary: Facebook groups have been set up for each grade level so teachers and students can connect and interact. Teachers will compile learning packets for their students.  Learning packets will be delivered to families at the meal drop sites on Mondays. On Wednesdays, the remaining packets will be delivered to the homes of our students.

• Three Oaks Elementary: Learning packets will be delivered at the meal drop sites. Arrangements will be made to deliver materials to students who did not receive the packets at the meal drop sites. A building Facebook page has been created to share building specific materials and otherwise connect with students. Teachers will also send resources to students by Google classroom and email.

• Middle/High School: Teachers will work with students through Schoology, and utilize software like IXL and USA Test Prep. 

River Valley Middle/High School Principal Pat Breen said Chromebook devices were distributed to families on March 30 at the middle high school (they are issuing one Chromebook per family for families that requests a device).

“We are communicating to students through email and Schoology, our online learning management system.” he said. “If school is closed for the rest of the year, we have a plan ready to go for providing paper materials to families without the necessary resources for online learning.”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer stated on March 30 that it was very unlikely students would return to class this school year. A final decision was expected soon.

The school will rely on guidance from the state with regard to issuing credits and continuing learning going forward as well.

“Our tentative plan will be to issue assignments/school work on Mondays and have it due back to teachers after 3 days, generally. This would be a building-wide assignment/ rotation with assignments being issued on Monday by noon and Due Wednesday by midnight. They will then have a new “batch” of assignments on Thursday by noon which will be due the following Monday at midnight. We are also brainstorming plans for commencements and other events, however, it is still up in the air until we know officially how long school is going to be out.”

Breen said the schools also has an online dashboard for parents to visit as a “one stop shop” for parents and students to access their virtual materials which will be posted on our website soon.

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