Sustainable effects: pandemic changes the educational offer | Local news


VIGO COUNTY – Shelly Gardner, writing teacher at Vigo County School Corp. sat on the floor with student Eleanor Longest in a small classroom to help her set up her Chromebook for the baseball theme, which is used in the Summer Writing Wonders program.

Gardner helped the fourth grader open various tabs, including a digital notebook, so Longest could maneuver back and forth during the class, which was taught remotely by teacher Rose Robins. The digital notebook allows you to take notes and write; Another tab for a program called Nearpod allowed Longest to interact online with the teacher and peers during class.

Due to COVID, the VCSC Writing Wonders summer school program planned earlier this year will be virtual this summer.

Camp Navigate, a community program that teaches employability / soft skills to children and offers many other camp activities, is participating in the three-week virtual writing program this year; Children bring their VCSC-published Chromebooks, although Camp Navigate has its own Chromebooks too.

While no one would want a replay of the challenges and hardships COVID-19 created last year, it resulted in many positive aspects in the provision of education, including the VCSC’s purchase of Chromebooks for students – with federal funding. The district accelerated its technology plans from a four-year rollout to one that happened within months for most classes.

Chromebooks improve what students do in the classroom, and also enable advanced virtual learning – including at Camp Navigate this summer.

With the technology and interactive programs, kids are excited, interested, and engaged, Gardner said. “Blended learning is here to stay.”

The increased use of technology is just one of the ways the pandemic will have a lasting impact on K-12 schools.

Federal dollars, positive impact

Indiana schools will benefit from two stimulus and recovery packages passed by Congress in December 2020, valued at an estimated $ 3.1 billion. When the original CARES Act dollars are added, it adds up to more than $ 3.3 billion.

This federal dollar infusion will have many positive effects on Indiana’s K-12 schools, says Terry Spradlin, executive director of the Indiana School Boards Association.

Some of the funds must be used to correct the learning loss. But schools can also spend the money on pandemic-related costs such as disinfection and personal protective equipment. Improvements to school facilities that improve indoor air quality and reduce the risk of virus transmission; Mental health services; and technology.

According to Spradlin, the districts will be able to improve school buildings from a health and safety perspective.

Plans vary between school districts, but the list includes replacing heating and cooling systems, installing air filtration and cleaning systems, replacing inefficient windows with more energy efficient units, building additional classrooms to increase square footage per student, and much more.

School districts have also invested heavily in broadband and Wi-Fi networks, technical equipment and student devices for virtual learning. State and federal funding will be available to expand broadband networks to and through schools into the school community, particularly in the underserved areas that were at the wrong end of the digital divide, Spradlin said.

This in turn will help school districts continue virtual learning opportunities for parents seeking this approach to teaching their children in future school years.

“Overall, with an emphasis on recreation and accelerating student learning to fill the learning gaps caused by the pandemic, Indiana is in an excellent position to lead the nation out of the pandemic at the service of our elementary and secondary school students,” Spradlin said .

COVID-19 is leading to some positive changes

Janet Coleman, dean of Indiana State University‘s Bayh College of Education, also believes lessons from the pandemic will lead to some positive changes in K-12 education.

“Nothing really replaces personal learning” and a good teacher, she said, but technology can improve the learning process. “There are things that technology can do better.”

With a computer and 3D modeling, “you can explain some difficult concepts in more concrete terms.” It can be used, for example, to study anatomy, “when you can’t open up a human body and show what’s in it,” she said.

Some children thrive on virtual learning “because you may not be bothered with the awkward social aspects of education,” Coleman said. You can focus more on the academic aspect.

It envisages an increase in virtual school attendance, and this could prompt some Indiana school districts to create or expand their own.

“I think some of the larger school districts that have the resources will be more likely to explore that option,” she said.

This keeps the virtual schools in local Hoosier districts where there is local control.

The loss of learning will continue to affect teaching in the classroom. “I would certainly expect there to be discussions in schools about this very thing,” she said.

“I hope there will be some long-term change based on knowing what technology can do and where we can use the technology to improve learning,” said Coleman.

A national perspective

Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, sees some significant and sustained effects from the pandemic.

It showed that “education can be done remotely and in fact there have been a number of students, mostly high performing students, who have done very well on distance learning and prefer and in many cases ask to continue,” he said. It was personalized for these students and allowed them to progress at their own pace.

Distance learning also provides an opportunity not only to make up for lost learning, but also to “speed up” learning so that students can progress faster, for those who take advantage of these options.

“We are aware that the students lost so much teaching time in the past year that there is a lot of catching up to do,” he said. Remote learning “is a great opportunity to do this”.

Domenech believes that COVID and distance learning could cause some districts to rethink the traditional school calendar and seating time requirements.

High school students learned without sitting in a classroom that many hours a day.

“There is no question that the preferred form of learning is face-to-face learning in a school building,” he said. “The reality is that there are many students who have the ability to learn from anywhere.”

Even before the pandemic, more and more high school students were taking online courses, and he expects this trend to continue. He also believes that more districts might consider offering year-round schooling.

In addition, he sees more school systems running virtual schools and competing with private organizations that offer them.

“A lot of parents want that,” he says.

And in Vigo County … Bill Riley, VCSC communications director, says that in Vigo County, “I think you’re going to see a renewed focus on human connections and character development. The pandemic shed light on some of the things we took for granted in education, and the decline in mental health could in large part be due to the fact that human connections were more difficult or non-existent that year.

The schools in Vigo County are working on a number of initiatives “that will bring more trustworthy adults into our students’ lives for more hours each day. Partnering with community organizations to provide more services to students will, in my opinion, be the greatest way K-12 will change in a post-pandemic world. We have seen how important these connections are and we want to double them. “

In addition, the pandemic has brought new opportunities to all educators to use digital tools, he said. “Necessity has become inventive for many teachers, and I think you will see a boom in teacher-led professional development, whether informal or formal.”

In Vigo County, the pandemic – and federal funding – allowed the district to accelerate Chromebook purchases by four years. “The way teachers have taken up the professional development the district has offered them and added their own experiences will continue to benefit our students for years to come,” said Riley.

Riley believes that having a nationwide online school “is in our future.” Before the pandemic began, 330 Vigo County students attended one of Indiana’s major online schools, schools that reach more than 16,000 students nationwide.

“Some, certainly not all, students have performed well in online learning over the past year and the demand for online education will increase,” he said. VCSC has a strong curriculum, “and we believe we can provide better education than some of the other online schools in our state that are based in Florida or Utah because we are experts in Indiana standards. We know what Indiana students need to be successful after graduation. “

Having its own nationwide online school would also help the district financially.

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