High school remote learning plans for the 2020-2021 school year

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By Nico Francois, Co-Editor-In-Chief and Graphics Editor

In preparation for a unique start to the 2020-2021 school year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Edmonds School District hosted a community forum on August 27th dedicated to high school reopening updates. The webinar was also open for community members to submit questions concerning the reopening under Continuous Learning 2.0, answered by Assistant Superintendent Greg Schwab, CTE director Mark Madison and principals from every high school in the ESD. 

As the questions flowed in, Schwab introduced the draft schedules for schools that run on 6-period days normally, and those that operate on block schedules. The 6-period model begins at 9:00 A.M., consisting of 25 minute periods for each subject until 12:15 P.M., with a 15 minute advisory window during the day. Students will be given time to interact with staff through office hours in the afternoon, as well as on Wednesdays. Wednesdays have been designated as non-mandatory class days for students to participate in independent learning and for teachers to plan for the rest of the week or provide intervention for students who may need extra support.

“There is a time during this day too for time to connect with teachers and staff after the school 6-period day,” Michael Piper, principal of Lynnwood High School explained. 

In a similar fashion to the 6-period day, the block schedule will begin at end at the same time while also incorporating 15 minute advisory periods, but will instead incorporate three 50-minute periods per day, with odd periods on Mondays and Thursdays, and even periods on Tuesdays and Fridays. Both schedules will also incorporate a 7th period into their day after the 12:15 lunch break.

“Just like the 6-period day schedule, there is Wednesdays where students can check in with teachers and teachers will also use that time to prepare lessons,” Allison Larsen, principal of Edmonds Woodway High School said.

While there are already two high schools on a block schedule under normal circumstances, conversation has sparked between the two 6-period schools, Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood High School, about switching to a block schedule for the remote learning model. Surveys are expected to go out to students and families to gather feedback on the potential changes shortly. 

“Our teachers have been discussing the chance to switch to a block schedule during this remote learning,” Mountlake Terrace High School principal Greg Schellenberg said. “If you look at a 25 minute period versus a 50 minute period, you would think that there would be classes that would benefit from a longer period of time.”

While longer class periods may benefit many students and staff, navigating classes such as band, choir and drama will present a unique challenge to instructors. 

“Our teachers are looking at some independent work with their music classes and drama classes, but also they understand the importance of the community and collaboration that can happen in a music program,” Larsen said.

As a result, teachers are currently exploring software that could help their students record and submit short clips, which can then be put together to create a group collaborative piece. 

Despite working in a remote learning environment, Many CTE and elective teachers throughout the district are attempting to provide their students the same hands-on experience they would have in person, using  industry grade tools that have been given to them in the past. In preparation for the beginning of the school year, the CTE program has purchased a variety of innovative software such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Creative Suite for students to utilize from their Chromebooks.

“Many of our teachers are preparing materials and kits, so that students can pick those up and actually do hands-on projects at home,” Mark Madison, Career and Technical Education Director said. 

Teachers are going above and beyond to plan for how they can bring a sense of normality to their classes, and in a similar manner, athletic coaches are currently planning on ways to support student athletes in this trying time without cancelling sports entirely. As of now, all  school sports have been postponed until later  in the school year. Fall sports have been delayed until mid-winter and early spring, and  the winter sports season has been pushed back into late December.

“Our hope is we know how important athletics is to the life of high school students, how important it is to families, and we want to make sure that we give our students those opportunities,” David Shockley, principal of Meadowdale High School said.

 

As conversations continue around keeping the student experience as normal as possible given the circumstances, questions have  arisen around extracurriculars and clubs that students normally participate in. While those extracurricular activities are likely to vary from school to school, most clubs will continue to hold meetings over zoom.

“We needed athletics, extracurricular activities, clubs, all of those things are very important to our students and it’s our goal to make sure that the students have those opportunities whenever possible,” Shockley said.

The transition into a fully remote setting presents difficulties in all areas of learning, but the Edmonds School District has been planning for a consistent and flexible learning environment for it’s students and families. After schools shut down last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that families wanted one consistent learning management system used throughout the district where all of the information about students’ classes and assignments could be accessed. As a result, Canvas will be used in the upcoming year as the singular learning management system for students and their families.

“Along with Zoom, it’s going to be the primary way that our teachers and students communicate with one another.” Schwab said.

To supplement the resources found on the Canvas page for each class, students will also attend Zoom meetings hosted by their teachers, similar to how many instructors approached remote learning in the spring. However, unlike the remote learning model from last spring, the expectation for Continuous Learning 2.0 is that attendance is taken during the Zoom meetings hosted by teachers every day except for Wednesday, which is dedicated for independent learning. Students that aren’t able to attend every Zoom meeting will be allowed flexibility and alternative options such as watching any recorded content that their teachers provide or connecting with them through office hours or email.

“We know that this is a difficult time for everybody and understand that there are times when students may not be able to access the live Zoom, and so we’re going to get up and running and figure it out,” Andrea Hillman, principal of Scriber Lake High School said.

The district recognizes that, due to these unusual circumstances, not all students will be able to attend every one of their zoom classes.  As a result, the expectation for grading will also change come September. The goal is to change grading practices using a standards-based grading system, which, unlike a traditional grading system, relies more on students proving their mastery of skills rather than their attendance or participation.

“There will be an expectation of grades being given, but the question becomes how do we implement a grading policy that is really truly standards-based and moves away from behavior to really focusing more on what students can show that they can do,” Schwab said.

While teachers  prepare to start the school year in a completely virtual model, incoming freshmen will also be making their eccentric entrance into high school. In previous years, freshmen have had a warm welcome into their school community through things such as an orientation before school started, where they would have the opportunity to tour the school and find their classes, or CONNECT Crew, which helped 9th graders bond with their upperclassmen. Even though in-person bonding with 9th graders will not be possible this year, that does not mean that the district isn’t working to incorporate freshmen into the community just as much as in previous years. 

“We have the same goals in mind of connecting our students with staff and upper class student leaders through fun and engaging activities that would build community and knowledge about our school,” Piper said.

Both orientation and CONNECT Crew for incoming freshmen will be moved to a remote setting. There will also be other opportunities for freshmen to bond with staff and the community as a whole, such as the advisory period during the school day. The purpose of the advisory period is to give students the opportunity to regularly connect with an individual adult, especially during times when many students face issues dealing with anxiety or isolation. Advisory will help students develop the skills to address and deal with the anxiety in a healthy manner. 

“One of the things that we all realize and acknowledge is that in addition to this being a very different learning situation, it is also a very challenging social emotional situation for students,” Madison said.

Having an advisory period benefits the teachers as well as the students, giving teachers the chance to maintain their relationship with students and have the chance to interact with them outside of strict class time.

“A lot of teachers are very intent to retain the daily check in with students and to make sure that kids are okay and that they can see them and talk with them every day,” Schellenberg said.

To prepare for when it is safe for students to return to schools in the hybrid AA/BB model, the district has divided students into cohorts A and B based on their last name. Students with last names that begin with A through Le will be sectioned into cohort A, while students with Lea through Z last names will be placed into cohort B. Siblings that are in different grades or have different last names will be in the same cohort. 

“One of the things that we asked the high schools to do now was to work on splitting their students up into cohorts so that the lion’s share of that work was done in August rather than trying to do it in October if we were planning to reopen for some in-person learning in November as an example,” Schwab said.

Counselors have been hard at work trying to configure students schedules around the hybrid AA/BB model for when it is safe to go back to school in-person, which is why the release of schedules has been delayed until September 4th. 

The ESD continues to try their best to provide  support to all students and households that require it, which is why the pandemic EBT funds are still available to families that qualify for free and reduced lunch. Families that are qualified but haven’t yet applied can call 877-501-2233, or sign up online at www.WashingtonConnection.org and choose the ‘Pandemic EBT- Emergency School Meals Program’ box on the application. 

“We also wanted to encourage families that qualify to make sure they complete the free and reduced applications which are available at the school office, online, and at each of the school meal sites which will be operating this fall,” Schwab said.

The start to a unique new school year is approaching fast, and the Edmonds School District wants to hear from its community. As the school year begins, they will continue to host community forums. More information on these forums can be found on the Edmonds School District website, or on bit.ly/ESDForums.