Summit School District works to provide more resources as students participate in online learning
When the Summit School District started the year in a hybrid learning model, district officials made it clear that having school during a pandemic would require flexibility.
On Nov. 20, that flexibility was put to the test, when the district announced all schools would be participating in online learning from Nov. 30 through Dec. 18. Students won’t return to hybrid learning in the schools until after their holiday break ends on Jan. 4.
District spokesperson Mikki Grebetz said the decision to move online wasn’t made lightly.
“With the level orange guidance we received in November, it drastically increased the number of quarantines for staff and students, which made for unsustainable learning environments for teachers to be able to provide in person learning to those students who are still in person,” Grebetz said.
Grebetz said the sheer number of quarantines among cohorts made for “abrupt transitions” from online to in-person learning for students and staff. The move to online allows for the district to start again with a full set of staff.
While the decision made the most sense for addressing the district’s staffing issues, no one involved believes online school is what’s best for students.
“The school district believes that in-person learning is best for both their academic and social emotional learning for all scholars,” Grebetz said. “I’m hearing from parents that they believe in-person learning is best as well.”
In March, many parents and students expressed frustration with a lack of structure and communication when they went through the online learning experience, which Grebetz said the district now refers to as “crisis learning.”
“In March, it was less structured, you had the morning meeting and then you just had a couple of videos to watch and the rest was all you,” said Shae Loomis, whose son is a first grader at Dillon Valley Elementary. “He had amazing teachers … but they hadn’t had time to plan for this kind of structure so it was a little bit less controlled.”
This time around, Grebetz said the district has put professional learning time, new online learning software and better mental health resources in place to support students and parents.
“In crisis learning, we had never been in a place, and families had never been put in a place, where students had to remain at home for long periods of time and learn at home in a distanced environment,” Grebetz said. “Since that time, we have put a number of professional development, a number of mental health supports and other continuity of services in place to address those inequitable systems.”
At the start of the three weeks of online learning, Superintendent Marion Smith Jr. sent out a list of resources for students and families, which includes information on how to receive a COVID-19 test, free meals, technology support and internet access.
To help students who don’t have access to the internet, the district distributed Wi-Fi hot spots and placed school buses that are outfitted with hot spots in neighborhoods where households don’t typically have their own Wi-Fi.
The district has also worked to increase its mental health supports during this time by partnering with Building Hope Summit County to host connection events through the nonprofit’s HYPE program. Building Hope is also offering mental health training for parents and staff at the district.
Loomis said that while online learning will never be ideal, she has noticed a difference in the district’s approach this time compared to March. She said she has specifically noticed more structure in her son’s day.
Grebetz said the district has updated its online learning platforms to provide both asynchronous and synchronous learning, which allows students to interact with their teachers and peers virtually nearly every day and gives them time to work on their own without having to be on Zoom.
Grebetz added that the synchronous learning, which involves students logging on to a Zoom class, allows for the district to take attendance and check in to make sure they are participating in learning.
“I think (the district has) done the best they can with the information they were given and all of the moving pieces, all of the interested parties,” Loomis said. “There’s no winning. It’s not like there’s a right answer to any of this. I think everybody across the board is doing the best they can.”
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