Officials with the Mitchell School District are reminding parents of the various in-person and virtual class options that will be available when on-campus classes resume Aug. 19.
The district recently posted a document on its website listing the various options students have with specialized learning when they are both physically in the classroom and learning remotely at home via eLearning or other virtual platforms.
Joe Graves, superintendent for the Mitchell School District, said the district felt it was important to remind parents of the options as the 2020-21 school year approaches. With the school board implementing steps to enhance safety for students and staff in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, Graves said it’s important to know that the district plans to accommodate as many learning styles as possible.
“The document on the website is new, but the programs actually aren’t,” Graves said. “What we are trying to do, because this year people are trying to figure things out, we wanted to tell them here are the different options we have.”
Instructional programs for students who are physically in school that will be available when classes start in the fall include the age-specific model, multiage instruction, looping classrooms, flexible learning, personalized learning, mass customized learning, Second Chance High and dual enrollment. The programs vary in style and approach for students who may respond better to instruction in those environments than in the traditional classroom setting.
The age-specific model, for example, is what many would consider the regular school setting. It has students attend school in elementary classrooms for one grade per year, then move to the next grade level with a new teacher once promoted. At the middle school level, students attend their home room, other classes, and “specials” on a fixed schedule with a fixed curriculum.
In multiage instruction, a program that is offered at L.B. Williams Elementary and Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary, two grades of students, grades 1-2 and 3-4 at L.B. Williams and 3-4 and 4-5 at Gertie Belle Rogers, attend the same classroom and are sometimes referred to by the teachers as “youngers” and “olders.” Their curriculum, while not entirely individualized, is differentiated to meet the specific needs of the children in the classroom.
The document goes on to describe the style and approach of all the various options.
“It does give a nice overview, and if (a child) has a particular issue, what are my options?” Graves said. “The second part of the document is about what if I have a concern and I don’t want my child in the classroom?”
Those virtual options include eLearning, virtual school and dual enrollment. Most district patrons are likely familiar with the eLearning option after the district moved to that format after Gov. Kristi Noem urged schools in the state to move to a virtual format at the onset of the outbreak. But Graves said that option has been updated with specific protocols for software and other details.
“It is still being taught from school to home, but it’s a step forward,” Graves said.
The document notes that an eLearning option could be used when a single student from a classroom may be unable to attend class due to exposure to COVID-19, or if a group of students from a classroom is unable to attend due to parental choice about pandemic concerns. In these cases, the teacher would teach the class live at the same time as the instruction would have occurred in the physical school schedule, with the option of recording the lesson as well for students who, for unavoidable reasons, could not attend live.
Graves said some parents have opted to have their child learn from home to start the school year, even though the district will be reopening to in-person classes with a number of safety measures in place, including the encouragement of social distancing and a mandate that requires face masks to be worn by everyone on district property.
“Not terribly many (have opted for eLearning), but there are still 18 days before school starts,” Graves said.
The district has also posted a document describing the levels of openness the school system will follow depending on the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic as the school year continues. Encompassing four levels ranging from having all students attending in-person classes at full capacity to complete distance learning for all students, the district will operate at whatever level is deemed necessary to ensure the safety of staff and students.
At this point, Graves said the district is planning on opening at the highest level of openness with exceptions allowed for parents who may not feel comfortable having their children in live classes. Those students will be able to learn from home in a similar fashion to how virtual classes were held last year.
The district will make decisions on what level it will operate at based on the best information available from medical professionals, such as the South Dakota Department of Health, and other sources, Graves said.
The exact course the school year will take is still unknown, Graves said, and the district is prepared to adjust whatever protocols it needs to ensure a high-grade educational experience for the students while maintaining the highest level of safety. He said he and other district officials are still listening to district patron concerns on all aspects of the reopening, including the requirement of masks.
“We’re still listening to everybody on this, and we’ll make any accommodations we can without reducing the effectiveness of the mandate. The school is still listening as we move forward,” Graves said.
He said he encouraged parents in the district to review the documents listed as “Educational Options” and “Return to School Plan, Fall 2020” posted on the front page of the school website at www.themitchellkernels.com and to contact the school office with any questions regarding in-person class and virtual learning options for their child.
A video of Graves discussing the start of the 2020-21 school year can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=-klyogawlv4&feature=emb_err_woyt
Input from patrons will continue to be a vital part of the reopening process, Graves said, and the school district itself is ready to take every step to host a successful school year.
“Everybody is coming together on this,” Graves said.