Tri-Cities educators reflect on fall semester challenges

Keeping Schools Safe

(WJHL) — As we enter the final week of the fall semester, some school leaders are expressing concerns following their first full semester of virtual and hybrid learning sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Grades will not be finalized for this semester until a couple of weeks after this fall semester ends, so it is hard to put a percentage on how students are doing.

School leaders do say, however, this semester has taught them how to implement a better learning assessment in real-time amid a pandemic.

“It’s been very challenging for everyone all the way through the system,” Kingsport School Board President Jim Welch said.

It is safe to say schools are not in the blended or virtual learning business, but school leaders say they have been able to maintain a focus on certain assessments in order for students to retain what they are learning in front a computer screen.

Washington County’s elementary education assistant director of schools, Cindy Hayes, said: “We’re trying to even enforce this more when we come back, in January to move away from the product of just producing something just to get a grade, to actually seeing the process of learning; what are our students actually learning.”

Washington County Schools has postponed one of its tests in the K–8 levels to January.

“We postponed one of our tests until after students return sometime, in January because the results that we would possibly get from that test at this time there’s a lot of factors involved; the stress. We’re just now getting our students access to the Internet and just don’t feel like the validity of it would be strong to have our students go through a testing period which increases anxiety anyway,” Hayes said.

Welch said: “For some reason, particularly on the virtual side, what we’re experiencing is that a number of students are having difficulty keeping up with their class. Now, whether that’s because they lack teacher-student contact or because they lack parent interaction that they normally have in school, that’s all hypothetical.”

Welch said he is concerned more than ever about students and their drastic transition to online learning.

“I’m especially concerned because our demands on our mental health provisions in our school systems are at an all-time high. This is a different world. I have no idea what it’s like to be young and in school at this moment in time. I have no idea what it’s like to not see my friends on a regular basis. I have no idea what it’s like to not sit in a classroom five days a week.”

The two school districts plan to continue to make adjustments like changing assessments, working in small groups, and creating focus standards for each grade.

“Within that toolkit is manipulatives, dry erase boards and markers where the teacher can just engage with them virtually and they can manipulate things, work together, show them their answers and kind of get them that feel that they will have when they’re in their classroom. We’re looking at smaller groups. Research is showing us that in small groups students are more engaged,” Hayes said.

Welch said: “Faith without a strategy is just a wish and we’re developing that strategy in real-time, under real circumstances.”

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