In a recent interview with Kevin Aten, superintendent of Bayfield School District, he shared a timeline for transitioning a brick-and-mortar school district to a virtual school district in less than two weeks. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic caused the schools to close in mid-March in order to protect students, teachers and staff from contracting the virus. Aten said the district was challenged to advance “the personalization of education through the use of technology 10 years in one month.”
Transitioning from traditional classroom instruction to online instruction took a large amount of communication, perspiration and perseverance. Aten and his leadership team told the families and staff of the Pine River Valley to have a normal spring break and that they would know more about what “school” would look like when they returned from the break. While many in the valley were resting, traveling and recreating, the leadership of the school district met daily throughout the week to outline their priorities and the implementation of learning in a whole new way.
Aten said the three main goals for the new way of interacting with students were 1. Relationships, 2. Relationships, 3. Relationships. They realized that students, families and staff would be asked to completely change their lifestyles and learning experiences in a short time frame. Ensuring that the students and staff had support for their emotional and mental well-being became the foundation of all decisions that followed.
The administrative leadership team took the approach that if you give teachers a problem and get out of their way, they will solve the problem! The Bayfield School District teaching staff worked collaboratively to tackle new issues that would arise in the virtual learning environment. They agreed this would be hard and different for the students, so they agreed to allow the students “grace and space” with their instruction and grading efforts. They agreed to communicate frequently with families. They committed to working together to solve the problems that would inevitably arise.
School was officially canceled on March 23. For two days, a cadre of 30 teachers were trained to be Google Certified Educators. They learned how to use Google Suite for Teachers and they received credits from the course that will allow for salary advancement on the pay scale. The teachers planned for and then contacted every single student and family in the district to notify them of the closure and to explain how the new learning would take place. Children were to have about two to three hours of assignments for all classes each day. Lunches would continue to be provided for any family that wanted them.
Principals and teachers worked together to outline what learning at their level would look like. They taught one another how to quickly become effective online instructors. They worked together to develop lesson plans that would not overwhelm the students (or the parents) and yet would deliver valid learning experiences.
Each school building took their own approach to delivering instruction, based on the abilities of their student learners. At the primary school, teachers held online classes to engage the children in socializing with one another. They printed paper packets that would be delivered and picked up every Tuesday. At the intermediate school, the staff opted to use Google Classroom for their learning platform. Because students had already been using this software, they were familiar with it and could easily do it at home.
Bayfield Middle School has been using a software subscription website called Schoology for several years. The staff agreed to continue to use it for their instruction. Schoology also offers training for teachers who still have so much more to learn about virtual teaching.
The high school integrated Google Suite into its daily online classes. Using their video abilities, the teachers continued to hold class at regular times each day. Students could attend live classroom sessions or watch recorded sessions at their leisure. Many of the secondary students provided day care services for their working parents and needed to be able to attend class at nontraditional times of the day or evening.
The district deployed 700 Chromebooks in two days. Any student who wanted or needed a laptop was provided one. Also, many homes didn’t have access to the internet, so the school district provided hot spots (remote internet access devices) for them.
A major hurdle to overcome was that of engaging parents with their student’s work. Parents now took on an instructional role in the child’s learning, however they were encouraged to “put the student in charge of their work,” to create a regular work/study schedule and just be present at the table.
Grading the work created more discussion for the leadership teams. It was determined that the fourth quarter grades will not be compared to the first three quarters of the year. No grade point average will be destroyed by this new educational experience. The teachers and administrators will continue to work on fair and supportive means for evaluating their students’ learning. No final solution has been proposed as of this writing.
In this time of challenge and seclusion, Bayfield School District will continue to interact with the students in the Pine River Valley. They will prioritize their relationship with the students as the most valuable thing to protect and continue. We salute them in their efforts.