By Kelly Morgan

 

Though much remains uncertain about the start of school this August, students learning from home via computer on some days is certain. The COVID-19 pandemic brings creative ways of instruction and new challenges.

“Although we are really excited to start school back in August, we know that it also is posing a lot of challenges for educators and for families,” Jackson County Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Angie Dills said. “We’re working together to make sure that the most precious part of our community is taken care of.”

This past month, principals called families to notify them about a back-to-school survey families are being asked to fill out. In it, families mark whether they want their students to study face-to-face or remotely this coming semester.

Dills said that once the school system has gathered data about how students will be learning this fall, the county will decide how to allocate staff. She said they hope to have all the data gathered by Aug. 1.

The survey can be accessed on the Jackson County Public Schools website, jcpsnc.org.

Though students may select face-to-face learning, Dills said they may be required to switch to remote instruction if they contract COVID-19 or are exposed to someone who has contracted the virus.

When asked whether teachers would have the option to teach remotely this fall, Dills said that the Human Resources Department is working alongside the state to provide guidance on employment and ensure that all employees are protected.

“Things are changing so rapidly,” Dills said. “The school system and families are going to have to work as a team to make the best decision possible for our students.”

Dills also said that remote instruction will look different than it did this spring. 

“We heard from our families that they desired some consistency in the platforms that we use, so we have been buying software to make that consistency easier for families,” Dills said.

K-3 students would use the platform Seesaw, 4th-8th graders Google Classroom and high-schoolers would use Canvas.

“Depending upon the class, the teacher, the developmental level of the student, the level of internet access and other factors surrounding each child’s needs, we will be looking at whether or not recorded videos, interactive instruction like Google Meets or other methods should be used,” Dills said. 

“So it will look different across the continuum, but we have been working to standardize some of those protocols and expectations.”

Whether students are learning remotely or face-to-face, they will be taught the same material.

“While the delivery method might look different, the curriculum will be the same,” Dills said. “We are trying to look at ways that we can make that easier for teachers to manage because we realize it’s going to be difficult for teachers because they have half the students there, half the students at home.”

“I feel like students need to be in school, but I also understand the risks,” Fairview sixth grade math teacher Vyanne Fisher said. “I do think school is the best place for children.”

Fisher said she loves Google Classroom, but it is not the only online resource she’ll be using. She is looking into software programs that let students interact with videos they watch and let them play educational games.

“Remote teaching adds a whole new level of unknown and uncertainty,” Fisher said. “I would say it at least doubles the workload because I prepare it all for face-to-face and then I alter everything for remote students.”

Dills also stressed how important it is that students receive feedback. 

“Providing feedback to students takes time,” Dills said. 

“That is a challenge that we’re going to be working through as we go into the fall.”

This spring, teachers received professional development on how to teach remotely, but they will receive more before starting school this fall.