Elementary students in the Manhattan-Ogden school district will pick up their pencils — not computers, at least initially — as the district gears up to start continuous learning next week.
Gov. Laura Kelly on Tuesday ordered all state elementary and secondary school buildings closed through the end of the semester. A Kansas Department of Education continuous learning task force last week met and developed guidelines for schools to take as they adapt to continuing their education away from their physical buildings.
After initially extending school break for two weeks, the school district is taking this week to finish putting together a local plan using the guidelines, which recommend no more than 30 minutes of daily learning for preschoolers; 45 minutes for kindergarten and first grade; an hour for second and third graders; 90 minutes for fourth and fifth graders; and three hours for sixth through 12th graders, with a maximum of three hours per day.
The state task force gave school districts three recommendations for their approaches: virtual learning, packet learning and limited, small-group face-to-face learning. While districts may adopt localized combinations of those options, superintendent Marvin Wade said Friday that the district will not be using small group learning.
Paula Hough, executive director of teaching and learning, said the district plans to adopt a packet approach, at least initially, for its elementary school students. District officials hope to distribute the packets — which includes worksheets for students — online and in-person. If the packets are distributed in person, it would be given later this week when schools allow students to come by and pick up any personal belongings.
That approach will work mainly with paper and pencil, rather than digital or interactive learning, and Hough said that approach will allow teachers across the district to implement common content for each of the district’s grades and secondary-level courses. The packet approach will also free up teachers to work more directly with students who need specialized instruction.
Teams of district teachers are also working to develop similar plans for middle and high school students, with the same goal of putting a short-term two-week plan in place while the district figures out the rest of the semester. The district sent out an email survey to families to determine how many students have technology and adequate internet access at home.
While an email survey on internet access might seem counterintuitive, Hough said it will at least allow the district to know who might not have it and to follow up with families who don’t respond to survey via other communication methods. She said the district’s technology and IT teams have been taking inventory to figure out the extent of the district’s technology capabilities.
“This has been stressful for all of our educators,” Hough said. “This is new for the teachers, social workers, building administrators, students, and parents. There is a huge learning curve ahead of us.”
Hough said the district is also trying to figure out the best balance for self-guided student work and work that might require more parent support.
“This is the million-dollar questions,” she said. “We want to provide as much as we can that the students are able to complete with minimal assistance, but we also want to continue moving forward with instructional progress (moving toward end of year goals, standards).”
For now, though, parents should anticipate education resuming the week of March 30, Hough said.
“There is a lot to be determined yet, but the ball is moving,” she said. “We are not sitting back and waiting, we are working to provide educational opportunities for our students to the best of our ability at this time.”