Students in local schools experienced a significant change in their method of learning a couple of weeks ago.
As a result of health precautions relating to the coronavirus outbreak, Lumpkin County schools shut their doors for the remainder of the school year following a nation-wide trend of school closures.
The closure, which began March 16, has been extended to summer break, based on guidelines from Georgia Governor Brian Kemp.
“I am extremely proud of our staff who had their world flipped upside down on very short notice,” said Superintendent Rob Brown. “They have quickly learned to communicate with and reach their students in ways never needed before.”
For most students, technological methods have quickly become essential to daily learning.
High School Assistant Principal Jason Lemley said the staff has handled the transition very well.
“With very little time to prepare, our teachers quickly took action and made sure our students were ready to go with distance and online learning,” he said.
Brown said teachers are quickly finding new tools to use with their students. “The creativity and resourcefulness of our teachers is to be commended.”
The Lumpkin school district was prepared to meet this need, having already used online learning for inclement weather. But Brown said that using it for an extended period of time was never the target.
“Whereas we've always had teachers who were proficient with technology use for instruction, we now have teachers utilizing all sorts of new tools and technology to reach students,” Brown added.
Lemley said online instruction is second-nature to the majority of students. “The last couple generations grew up in an age of digital access, technology, and learning. They are better equipped to deal with this than most of us.”
In order to make online learning possible for every student, the high school has checked out over 300 Chromebook laptops, with the other schools doing the same. Students who prefer to do so can complete lessons in paper packets instead.
Even younger students are handling the transition.
“Most students are doing extremely well,” said Blackburn Elementary Principal Betsy Green. “Students are used to working in Google Classroom at school and they are familiar with the websites we are using for online learning.”
To meet the needs of elementary students, paper packets are prepared for students in K-1st grade and for any older students who don't have internet access, according to Lumpkin Elementary Principal Stacie Gerrells.
For most students in 2nd-5th grades, teachers use Google Classroom to push out online lessons.
Longbranch Elementary Principal Jane Mullinax has appreciated the way Zoom has kept teachers and students connected via video meetings.
“Students really like to see their teachers and fellow classmates and interact with them to enhance their learning.” said Mullinax.
She pointed out they are able to use Zoom and Google Hangout to conduct IEP and RTI meetings.
“We are so proud of how all of the teachers have embraced this transition,” Gerrells said. “Teachers are continuing to learn with the students about innovative ways to meet their students' needs and engage students with online learning."
PARENTS PITCHING IN
During such a challenging time, Lemley said parents have a unique role. They should monitor their child’s work and progress by asking questions, as well as stay involved, and communicate with teachers often.
“If we all stay in communication with one another, our success will continue for the length of this school closure.” he said.
Brown said this is a time when keeping students motivated and accountable is difficult. But he hopes that teamwork can make it happen.
“Our teachers are still teaching,” Brown said, “but it is critical for parents to communicate and support those teaching efforts more now than ever before.”
Parents should set a schedule including lessons, play time and family time every day. Lessons should take somewhere between 30 to 45 minutes per day in each subject area.
This is important because all the at-home school days will count toward instructional days, Lemley said.
Each school day, teachers are available from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., in addition to interacting with parents and students other times of the day.
A SYSTEM-WIDE EFFORT
Brown said the current situation has challenged school staff to make sure students have their instructional, physical, and emotional needs met.
“Our teachers are handling the instructional needs, our school nutrition department is working on the physical needs, and our counselors are offering virtual counseling sessions to meet the emotional needs,” he said.
Brown added his appreciation for those delivering meals during this time.
“I cannot say enough about the way our staff came together for meal preparation and delivery,” he said. “Preparing and delivering 7,000 meals is a daunting task, but our staff jumped in and showed the true team spirit.”
At the same time, the local school system is challenged with making sure the staff is safe, dealing with personnel issues, and communicating with the public, according to Brown.
He said home-based learning is not homeschool.
“Our teachers are developing lessons and assessing student performance on a daily basis,” Brown said. “They are fully invested in the success of their students and they are working tirelessly to ensure students are successful.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
The 3rd-8th graders will not take the usual Georgia Milestone Tests.
“I am sure they will be given next year and teachers will have to work extra hard to make sure their students are ready for these tests,” Gerrells said.
She added that teachers will review material from the previous year more than they normally would at the beginning of a new year.
Gerrells said there are always other data they use in the planning process for next year, as well as looking at the “whole child” to make proper plans.
Students will not be taking end of course tests in grades 9-12 this year, Lemley said.
He added that most universities (except UGA and Georgia Tech) have waived SAT and ACT requirements for acceptance for Summer and Fall semesters.
“Our schools and our teachers will be able to focus more on teaching the whole child the last quarter of this school year,” Lemley said.
In order to make decisions about placement and course enrollment next year, he added that schools will have valuable data from formative and summative assessments in-house.
Brown said he sincerely hopes that students can return to school this year, although he feels for the high school seniors who have seen many typical senior year experiences go by the wayside.
“Spring sport athletes have lost most of their competitive season, many for which it was their last ever playing a sport,” he said.
Brown cited many students who have prepared for state competition in SkillsUSA, FBLA, HOSA, Academic Team, Chorus, Band, etc. who may not get a chance to use their training and preparation. “School is not just about learning the curriculum, it is also about creating life experiences and life-long memories.”