Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Learning from home

 

April 15, 2020

Courtesy photo

Tucumcari middle-school teacher Dana Benavidez on Thursday interacts with her students online from home using the Google Classroom platform. Last week was the first week of distance learning for New Mexico's public schools during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Superintendents at Quay County schools last week reported a mostly smooth transition to online learning for students at home in the wake of canceled classes across the state because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Tucumcari schools superintendent Aaron McKinney said online learning was "going well" during its opening days last week. He said just a few students haven't answered the district's letters or phone calls during a transition to internet-based classes.

McKinney said he had another hurdle on his mind, as well.

"One of the things we're working on now is for kids who don't have internet," he said Wednesday during a phone interview. "Plateau is working hard to try to get that internet to them. We understand that; we're not going to penalize those kids for not having internet."

McKinney said Plateau is offering two free months of internet service for students who don't have it. He said he's encouraging students without computers to acquire smartphones.

McKinney said he didn't have an exact number of students who didn't have internet, but it's "quite a few."

Middle-school teacher Dana Benavidez, whose husband Patrick is the district's technologist, said during a phone interview last week that smartphones are not ideal compared to computers, but they can work with the district's online learning program.

Benavidez said she was hopeful all students would have some sort of internet device this week.

McKinney said the district decided to use the Google Classroom program. He said it's user-friendly, and anyone with a Gmail account can access it.

Benavidez said she and her husband gave many Tucumcari teachers and students a Google Classroom crash course.

"The middle-schoolers kind of have a leg up because three teachers use Google Classroom in our curriculum already," she said.

Benavidez said she saw marked improvement in the faculty's use of the platform in those first few days and added they are "doing an amazing job."

"I logged into many of the Google Classrooms, and they are working extremely hard to get good, quality curriculum to their students," she said.

"The morale is outstanding," McKinney said of the district's teachers. "I'm in on all their calls with the principals and everything; they're sharing ideas and doing great. They're helping each other out to get through this."

Though many people use the Zoom video-conferencing platform to stay in contact during social distancing, McKinney advised faculty to use it only when all students in a class have access to it.

"Zoom is OK if all the kids can get on," he said. "But it has to be equitable. If a student gets on and can't hear what the teacher has to say because the internet is too slow, it's a problem. I'd use it cautiously."

Despite the encouraging early results with online learning, Benavidez said it pales in comparison to the classroom.

"I don't think with online learning the situation is ever going to be ideal because nothing is every going to replace those relationships, that rapport you've built with those kids," she said.

"But this is the next-best thing. You can stay connected to the kids in a positive manner. They still can reach out to us and get help if they need it."

Regarding her students, Benavidez said she "missed them terribly" during the three-week layoff.

"When you have your routines and schedules and kids you see every day, it's hard for that (school closing) to happen and you have no closure," she said. "Some have reached out and told us they missed us as much as we missed them."

State-mandated daily instruction times are 30 minutes for prekindergarten, 45 minutes for kindergarten and first grade, 60 minutes for second and third grade and 90 minutes for fourth and fifth grade. For grades six through 12, it's 30 minutes per teacher for grades six through 12 for a maximum of three hours. Teachers also must maintain online office time of four hours a day.

"I know for many students and teachers, it's even more than those hours," Benavidez added.

Benavidez said one of her first online assignments to students was relaying their thoughts, feelings or fears during the pandemic.

"It felt good the students had an outlet to speak their opinion and talk to us for the first time in three weeks," she said.

Other districts

Dennis Roch, superintendent at Logan Municipal Schools, stated in an email last week the district has successfully transitioned to digital learning.

"After distributing Chromebooks to students needing devices and coordinating with Plateau to provide internet connections where needed, the district communicated login credentials to families, allowing students to continue learning activities from home," he wrote. "Teachers and school office staff remain available to assist students who encounter difficulty with hardware or software issues."

Roch said Logan is using two Edgenuity programs for remote learning: PathBlazer for kindergarten through five grade and E2020 for sixth through 12th grades. He said E2020 would ensure students can re-enter school in the fall at a grade level.

"Clearly, teachers and students are missing each other," Roch wrote. "However, teachers have scheduled virtual class meetings at least weekly to check in with students and provide opportunities for personal connection. In addition, the district is soliciting pictures and descriptions of 'school at home' student experiences for possible inclusion in the yearbook, as well as hosting an upcoming virtual spirit week with theme days for student and staff participation.

"Despite the challenges of quickly transitioning to an entirely online educational delivery system, morale in the district remains high. School staff remain committed to caring for both the academic and socio-emotional needs of their students, following up individually as needed to make sure no one slips through the cracks. Support services are also being continued, including meal distribution for eligible students, virtual speech therapy for those students needing it, and even virtual mental health counseling."

Bonnie Lightfoot, superintendent at House Municipal Schools, stated in an email last week her faculty encountered "no major problems" during their first week of distance learning, "but teachers are continuously reflecting on their practices to maximize student learning during this time."

She said the district isn't using one platform for online learning, but a combination of selected packets, various online programs, phone calls, emails, text messages and Zoom online meetings.

"Everyone seems to be working together and finding solutions when needed," Lightfoot added, adding that morale was "fine" with teachers and students.

Janet Gladu, superintendent of San Jon Municipal Schools, said her district didn't see any issues during its first week of continuous learning plans.

"We are using a variety of platforms, from packets to Zoom," she wrote in an email. "We issued Chromebooks to all students that need one. Each student will have some form of staff contact weekly."

She said teachers missed their students.

"In considering the situation, morale is holding," Gladu stated. "It is a difficult time for everyone; San Jon staff and students are not exempt from this."

 
 

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