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Schools offer 100% online option as COVID-19 concerns continue

Some parents are exploring enrolling their kids in a 100% online option for the 2020-21 school year.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Online schooling. Homeschooling. Unschooling. Hybrid learning. Blended learning. Distance learning. Asynchronous learning. Synchronous learning. Pandemic pods.

The terminology and decisions parents are facing as the beginning of the 2020-21 school years approaches and the uncertainties of the pandemic remain are daunting and difficult.

While Routt County’s three school districts are moving forward at this time with in-person learning, they also are offering families the option to enroll in a 100% online program while still remaining as students in their home districts.

No matter the mitigation efforts taken within the brick and mortar buildings, there are parents who are not going to be comfortable sending their kids to school, acknowledged Jay Hamric, Steamboat Springs School District’s director of teaching and learning.

In Hayden and South Routt, the schools will be working on a more individualized level with families who elect for the fully-at-home option. Students in those districts are encouraged to contact their teachers and administrators to directly set up a plan.

In South Routt, Superintendent Rim Watson said that may include livestream videos of their peers in the classroom or, for students without cell service and internet access, it might involve all of the lessons and assignments loaded onto a flash drive.

Steamboat is planning to return to school in a hybrid model — with students spending two or three days a week in the classroom and two or three days a week doing independent work at home.

The district held a virtual meeting last week for families with elementary and middle students interested in the 100% online option, and on Monday, a similar session was offered for high school families.

If a family elects to enroll in a fully online program — and there are many out there — the decision to enroll in their district’s chosen program means the student is still part of that district, and the district still receives the critical per-pupil funding necessary for the schools to operate under their current operating budgets and staffing levels.

Steamboat is requiring a decision for a semester-long, 100% online commitment to be made by Aug. 13, with the option of a 10-day trial period.

Hamric described the advantages of enrolling with Edgenuity, Steamboat’s chosen online partner program.

First, students will continue to have access to district resources, like counselors, special education services, social emotional programming and other school activities and extracurriculars, he said. They will also be paired with a Steamboat teacher to act as a liaison and support between the family and Edgenuity.

As of Friday, Hamric said he had about 40 students enrolled for the 100% online option.

One of the biggest reasons Steamboat selected Edgenuity, Hamric said, is because it is aligned with Colorado standards, which are already being taught within the district. That provides more consistency and will make for an easer transition when the students return to in-person learning, he said.

In Colorado, 85% of school districts use Edgenuity in some form or other, Hamric said. The state pays the district its per-pupil funding, and the district pays Edgenuity per course, he explained. The district also has access to Edgenuity digital learning material for their own teachers working under the hybrid model.

Students would be assigned an Edgenuity teacher either by classroom for younger students or by subject for older grades. But Hamric emphasized those relationships are not the same as in-person learning.

And there are important things for parents to be aware of, according to Hamric and Edgenuity representative Chet Riddle. Especially for the younger ages, the Edgenuity program requires a significant time commitment from a parent or learning coach.

“Adult involvement at home is crucial,” Hamric said.

And Edgenuity is asynchronous, which means students are not taking live lessons from teachers, and they are not interacting with peers. The learning is independent, with teachers available for one-on-one support.

Addressing some of the negative reviews of the Edgenuity program, Hamric said the district is aware of those, have done research and are confident in the program.

The curriculum is carefully designed and researched, has proven efficacy and isn’t static, Riddle said. The company works closely with the district and the individual students to adapt to unique needs.

Some of the frequent questions parents asked during the meetings were whether students could advance in their lessons and what happens if they fall behind?

That will be closely monitored by both the liaison and the Edgenuity teacher, with a system to address areas of need through additional tutoring and other interventions, Riddle said.

What is the student/teacher ratio in Edgenuity? About one to 50 for elementary and one to 75 to 100 for secondary, Riddle said.

Can Edgenuity learners participate in sports? Yes.

Hamric also addressed the issue of copyright infringement and cheating — something inherently problematic in online learning.

“It’s important for parents to monitor to make sure their kids are involved in making good choices,” he said.

While the hope is to next pivot to 100% in-person learning, Hamric said, the district also could have to pivot to 100% at-home learning, which would look very different than it did in the spring.

“It breaks my heart we are having to experience this,” Hamric said, who himself has two high school students. “We will continue to adapt and change and get you more information.”

For more information about Steamboat’s 100% online option or to enroll, view docs.google.com/document/d/17e6WuocZ0MQnlhzdJ8e2R9ZT4UJdNWrqzg50KrU-XsM/edit.

Steamboat Pilot & Today and the city of Steamboat Springs will host a virtual town hall focused on the Steamboat Springs School District’s plans for re-opening as part of their Steamboat Conversations series at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 6.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.


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