An unprecedented school year kicks off in Summit County with virtual learning |

An unprecedented school year kicks off in Summit County with virtual learning

Summit Middle School sixth grader Aniaya Brenner attends class Wednesday, Aug. 26. While Aniaya and her classmates attended school virtually on Wednesday, middle and high schoolers will be attending in person later this week.
Photo by Alaina Brenner

KEYSTONE — For the first time since schools shut down in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic in mid-March, middle and high schoolers logged into virtual classrooms Wednesday, Aug. 26. 

The first day comes nearly a month after the district announced its decision to start school in a hybrid at-home and in-person model. For middle and high school students, that means two days a week in person with three days online. Elementary students, who start Thursday, Aug. 27, will be in person four days a week and online on Wednesdays. 

Wednesday was also the first day for middle and high school students who chose to do remote learning, which allows them to be completely online for the entire school year. Those students will be using Edgenuity, a third-party education platform. Elementary students who chose the fully remote option will start Sept. 8, Superintendent Marion Smith Jr. said. 

For Summit High School students, the day consisted of a series of meetings with school administrators and teachers, focused on the reintegration of students into school, Principal Tim Ridder said.

Every Wednesday, high school and middle school students will be participating in online learning, with live classroom sessions over Zoom or Google Meet. Depending on which cohort the students are in, they will attend school Mondays and Thursdays or Tuesdays and Fridays in person. 

“One of their favorite places to be is the high school, and it really is such a cool community of students that we have here,” Ridder said. “The last time they saw each other in this environment would have been March 13. So their last transition was traumatic. … Kids and teachers really need to see each other and want to see each other.”

On the days students are online, they will be doing coursework on their own through Google Classroom. Ultimately, the schools are focused on creating an environment that balances mental health and emotional well-being with safety.

“A big focus from the staff at (Summit Middle School) is how do we create the learning environment that we always have,” Summit Middle School Principal Greg Guevara said. “One that is full of welcoming, one that is full of making sure every kid feels like they belong, feel loved, know that this is their place. Our foundation is relationships with kids.”

Summit Middle School sixth grader Luke McMahon, left, attends school at a desk across from his sister, Faith, a junior at Summit High School, on Wednesday, Aug. 26.
Photo by Naomi McMahon

School district leaders decided to push the start of school back a week from its original date Aug. 19. Teachers spent the extra week focusing on professional development for the unprecedented school year.

“That first week was really around coming together as a school community, coming together as a district community and really focusing on what we call leadership of self and really understanding who we are as educators,” Smith said. “That’s going to allow for us to better understand how we show up in our classrooms, how we show up in our departments, how we show up in other spaces.”

Creating a comfortable environment also will be top of mind Thursday, when elementary school students return to the classroom. Smith said Thursday will start with only third, fourth and fifth graders attending in person. On Friday, first and second graders will go in person, and kindergarteners will have their first day Monday, Aug. 31. 

“We felt it’s critically important to have an opportunity for all of our elementary scholars to practice and to have an opportunity to be physically in the school without everyone being there so they can learn the procedures,” Smith said.

Since initial discussions of the “return to learn” plan, school district officials have emphasized that there will be mistakes and hiccups. Smith said the district will be focused on progress monitoring and flexibility, as the experience is new to everyone involved.

“We really focus on what works,” Smith said. “How do we know it works? What are some of the things that we may need to stop doing, start doing, change doing or continue doing, just based on the information that we have and the conversations that we’re having?”

Despite all of the challenges, district leadership is committed to having a great school year. 

“I’m humbled by the work of everyone in this district,” Smith said. “We’re just honored to be on this transformative journey with all of our scholars and family this year. It’s going to look a little bit different, but we’re excited about that.”

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