Local News

Remote learning evolves

By Curt Peterson

Windsor Central Unified Union School District (WCUUSD) students learn via a two-days in-class, three-days via remote hybrid learning formula, in order to achieve 6-foot social distancing and protect students and faculty from Covid virus transmission.

Vermont’s response to the pandemic has successfully contained the virus. The state continues to register the lowest national rate of cases per capita after seven months.

How long will the pandemic force school reconfiguration? March visions of “an end in a few weeks” morphed to a June threat that “Covid will be with us well into 2021.”

Acting WCUUSD superintendent Sherry Sousa said district teachers are on board.

“None of our teachers wanted all-remote teaching,” Sousa told the Mountain Times. “They wanted students in their classrooms.”

The district currently offers remote learning methods for remote days (currently three days a week for most)  and to those choosing all-remote learning.

The Virtual Academy involves four district teachers, one full-time and three part-time, teaching kindergarten through 6th grade students from a specially-equipped classroom in Reading.

Vermont Virtual Learning Cooperative (VVLC) draws faculty from participating school districts for a state-wide program providing direct student-teacher connection through the internet for middle and high school students.

A third option, Virtual High School Learning (VHSL), is a program WCSU has used as augmentation in MS/HS for some years prior to the Covid pandemic. A manual and curriculum are provided to the student, and video instruction involves no direct teacher-student connection.

Each family was given these choices among the options. A few chose combinations of two or more.

At the Woodstock MS/HS district, 40 students chose fully remote instruction: 10 in the middle school and 30 in high school, Sousa said. Some out of concerns about the virus, some with health-related vulnerability issues.

Statewide, VVLC became significantly over-subscribed and short of middle school teachers, according to Sousa.

“We had an agreement with VVLC that included our middle school students,” Sousa said, “but one and a half weeks before our first day they requested four additional middle school instructors from the district to help make up the deficit.”

No additional middle school teachers were available, so VVLC eliminated all the district’s MS students from the program, Sousa said. Parents were advised of the dilemma by email, and offered VHSL or a program from Brigham Young University as replacement for VVLC. VHSL was the chosen option.

Faculty member Luis Dango is connecting with VHSL students via Zoom meetings to check their progress and attendance.

An evaluation survey was mailed to parents on Oct. 9, and high school principal Garon Smail will be following up by phone with families.

Not everyone is happy with the situation.

John Peters, Pomfret selectman and disgruntled parent of two WCUUSD students, objected to paying the district $87,054.50. The other four selectmen approved the payment as a legal obligation.

Peters’ wife, Cathy, explained the family’s situation. “My older daughter has dyslexia,” she explained, “and reads at a 5th grade level. She needs support from teacher contact and has to attend classes.”

Cathy and her daughter have health issues making them Covid vulnerable. Cathy’s younger daughter opted for fully-remote learning with VVLC and was switched to VHSL. John Peters says the courses and curriculum are far from pertinent for middle school students.

The Peters’ dissatisfaction has grown. Cathy filed a Freedom of Information request and paid $136 to access correspondence between the district and VVLC,  suspecting the loss of the VVLC program happened differently than depicted.

Sousa declined to discuss the Peters’ situation for legality reasons.

The superintendent said “live-streaming” of classes, with a computer in the classroom, would allow real-time participation by remote students.

“Rutland and Springfield districts are doing this now,” Sousa said. “We are exploring the possibility.”

Teaching in-person and remotely simultaneously, Sousa said, would be challenging, so teachers have to be on board.

Peters thinks live-streaming might be an improvement, but wonders if the wifi system at the high school meet the requirements.

“Whatever happens, I worry it will be too late,” Peters said. “The kids are falling more behind every week and it will be very difficult for them to catch up.”

“It’s everyone’s goal is to have all students on campus for in-person learning,” Sousa said, “but we don’t have the real estate [space] to bring students back and maintain social distancing.”

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