Clinton administrators review the positives and challenges of hybrid learning

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CLINTON — Evaluating the positives of switching to hybrid learning and facing a very unusual school year, versus the challenges still faced by teachers and administrators, were reviewed during the Nov. 17 Clinton Central School Board of Education meeting.

Dr. Stephen L. Grimm, superintendent, reported that things that are working well are parents’ health screenings of their children, and that communication has been successful utilizing Facebook, emails and surveys to collect input. He said the district is also constructing new bus routes, and there are now Wednesday bus runs to deliver needed materials and support to students.

A survey will be coming out in December or January, to find out better ways to reach stakeholders that are not directly involved in the district.

Some challenges have included adjusting to new software tools and learning how to use them, as well as certain needed cleaning supplies being on back order, Grimm said.

Program assessments by school:

• Elementary School: Principal Ellen Leuthauser said she asked faculty and staff for feedback on what’s working well with hybrid learning. She said the key to the school’s success has been, “collaboration.”

“Everyone is working together, pulling together, so that we can make it as traditional a school year as possible while being such an unusual year,” the principal said. Teachers are being creative in meeting with students whether it’s their cohort or not, she said. Intervention teachers are filling the gaps to see students while they’re on campus, and then to follow-up with them virtually. Counselors and teachers are also addressing the academic and emotional needs of children, she said.

“We don’t want to miss anybody — it’s a team effort to get our students what they need,” Leuthauser said. Hamilton College students are also working with children for extra academic support, she added.

“The things teachers have had to adjust to whether teaching in-person, or hybrid, and all the little things you have to re-think, managing your classroom” is astonishing, the principal said, such as guided reading — developing a rotating system for borrowed books that must be cleaned and quarantined after a student uses them.

Parents are collaborating and cooperating when it comes to parent-teacher conferences as well, Leuthauser said. And teaching assistants are helping to fill in when substitutes are needed and not available.

“Students really have adjusted well to the new routine and to the whole idea that they have a mask on their face. It does really amaze me, they just have them on — a 5-year-old has their mask on, they’re not playing with it. They have also adjusted to the volume of their voice, because sitting six feet apart in a classroom, you can’t always hear one another, and not only are they adjusting their volume, they’re really listening to each other,” Leuthauser said, referring to visits and observations in different classrooms.

The principal also said multiple teachers and faculty members have reported that they enjoy teaching in a setting where there are smaller class sizes because “they get to know their students on a deeper level.”

As for challenges the school faces, among them is benchmarking, as well as some of the websites being used may occasionally crash — there can be tech problems, Leuthauser said. There has also been confusion over completing iReady English Language Arts and math work, which is not graded, but is used by teachers to guide certain instruction.

“A big challenge is also getting kids in more often, because of the varying enrollment numbers due to the virtual and hybrid options,” she said, adding that it’s difficult for faculty to “plan for the next steps.”

Also looking at the need for additional long-term substitutes, there would be an added cost, she said. But enrollment needs to be consistent in order to plan ahead as to what resources are needed, with a proposal calling for a half-day Phase 2 re-opening being off the table due to results from a recent parent survey, said the principal.

Board of Education Vice-president Melinda Leising said she felt the virtual parent-teacher conferences were very successful, and that they should continue in that online format in the future.

• Middle School: Dr. Shaun Carney, principal, said as for positives, there would be some overlaps between the schools, including the “community in our buildings” — as far as instructing students and dealing with new (technological) issues. He commented on teacher flexibility when it comes to shifting from hybrid and online student mobility.

Carney said teachers have found unique ways to increase student participation inside the classroom, and for those tuning in virtually, such as music playing to help encourage conversation.

He said school counselors, social workers and nurses and Professional Development Coordinator Amie Johnson have been working to support students, parents and teachers with emotional, safety and academic needs.

Staff are also thinking outside the box while trying to keep traditional activities going, such as the development of a virtual yearbook, Carney said.

“These are new things that we’ve never had to trouble-shoot before,” he said.

Carney also commended the parental support, especially when the district has reached out to better serve their child. Resource officers, as well as teachers, are making personal visits to students’ homes to deliver materials and books. Hamilton College has also provided physical resources, such as water bottles, as well as tutoring support and an educational collaboration, offering a philosophy seminar.

As far as technology support, staff has been arriving to classrooms early, especially when there are substitutes coming in for quarantined teachers, to make sure that they are connected and ready to teach when they arrive.

As for challenges, when students are home however, completion of asynchronous work has taken “a pretty significant dip,” Carney said. “A lot of our online students are struggling the most.”

To address it, teachers are working on ways to encourage students to be more focused and engaged online. And for the future, the principal said the school is taking a look at simultaneous streaming and evaluating how technology is being used. As online students increase, he said there will be a need for better ways to collect information on student engagement and assessments to be sure they are learning the content.

Board of Education member Erica Shaw recommended that teachers have a “check-in period” for online students to make sure they are attending sessions for the next step in simultaneous streaming. She said that could help teachers “follow them” and have a live connection, especially for those who have parents working full-time and are not at home to monitor them.

Carney added that for some students, organization and time management can also be challenges.

• High School: Dr. Mathew Lee, principal, said the school will be live streaming all classes starting Monday, Nov. 30. In a parent survey completed by about 160 participants, 80 percent said they were in favor of live streaming all classes. Those who were not in favor, cited that their child didn’t need it because they proved successful with two days of asynchronous learning, and have the organizational skill sets necessary to succeed, the principal said.

Shaw said her concerns lie with those who are not visual learners and have the need “for that connection,” especially in the high school where student expectations are higher.

The positive things that have happened during the hybrid learning experience, are the “simple little things,” like the five minutes taken to check up on a student, “makes all the difference in the world...in momentum and moving things forward,” Lee said.

“We have reshaped and grown, and modified ourselves as educators and administrators, and adapted extensively — we have no idea what tomorrow is going to bring,” he added. “Collaboration — teachers networking with teachers and other districts, and finding resources that are available, and sharing information about best practices — having those professional development opportunities,” has become pertinent.

Lee said the next steps are finding ways to keep students active, and to meet their social and emotional needs if winter sports are cancelled. Lee said like other schools, faculty is working to develop ways to encourage remote students to become more engaged in the learning process. Teachers are constantly adjusting and modifying previous lesson plans to meet students’ social and emotional needs, such as physical education, the principal said.

Hamilton College has also provided tutors to the school, and there has been weekly delivering of materials for fully remote students.

As for challenges, it’s continuing to find things that “keep the momentum going” and reducing failure rates.

Failure rates, “they’re not where I want them to be at the high school. We can overcome it, but it’s about letting students know there are academic intervention services available — they may not want to come into school a day they don’t need to or stay after school, but they may need to,” said Lee.

In the near future, juniors and seniors will be paired with ninth and tenth graders who need additional support as part of a mentoring program.

Overcoming technological issues, such as internet and cell phone reception, has also become “one little thing teachers have had to learn to manage,” he said.

Other business:

• Bright Spots: Elementary Principal Leuthauser reported that the school’s kiln is up and running for the Elementary Art Club, trout eggs were received for students to raise, and a virtual field trip was hosted by Hamilton College. Leuthauser said the Positivity Project is going strong, with fourth and fifth grade students working on character strength and participating in a journal writing project. Teachers and pupils helped support student Nicholas Venero, who has Type 1 diabetes, raise money and awareness for the Junior Diabetic Research Foundation. As a school, teachers and staff raised $129, and as a whole, the Venero family raised $12,330.

• Middle School: Dr. Carney highlighted a mentoring PILOT program involving 17 students and the Positivity Project, for the first collaboration between the district and state Mentoring Program. The program started smaller in light of hybrid learning, but looks to expand in the future, Carney said. The principal said he hopes the program will give students “an edge into entering the real world.” Student mentors were trained virtually Nov. 4, and middle school mentors began working with elementary pupils on Nov. 18. Social studies students also took a “virtual” field trip to Jamestown. Carney said the school is also working on an extension program with Hamilton College where students learn about philosophy. Students who complete the seminar will get a certificate as well as a “Wonder Journal” so that they can continue to ask “big questions,” the principal said.

• Dr. Lee, principal at the high school, announced that National Honor Society inductions were held Nov. 18 with a limited number present in the theater. The ceremony was recorded and will be shared with parents by Nov. 25. An American Red Cross blood drive was hosted by the school on Nov. 25 for students and faculty. Students were recognized for sending “thank you” cards to veterans for Veterans Day.

• There is now the Clinton Central School Facebook page, with several district bright spots posted.

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