While teachers and administrators in the Methow Valley School District are focused on making these 58 days of remote learning an enriching experience for students, they’re also planning innovative changes for the 2020-21 school year.
Teachers at all three schools are working hard to maintain regular connections with students, the three principals reported at the school district’s April 29 board meeting. In addition to academic and social support, they’re making sure no students or families fall through the cracks because of financial or other upheavals caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Independent Learning Center (ILC) Principal Sara Mounsey said.
The school district has worked hard during the shutdown to be sure that all students who want and need a computer have one. Initially they anticipated distributing 100 computers, but they’ve checked out 165, Drew Simmons, director of teaching and learning technology/categorical programs, said. The district also helped half a dozen families get access to the internet and provided five mobile hotspots.
Following recommendations from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), last week Liberty Bell High School (LBHS) released guidelines for grading, with the key message that “learning is about more than grades.”
Because of the challenges of the current circumstances, LBHS teachers and administrators are committed to “doing no harm,” assuring that the extent to which students are able to engage in remote learning won’t negatively affect their grades.
Grades won’t drop below what they were on March 17, when schools closed for the year, and no students will fail. Any students who haven’t satisfactorily completed the necessary coursework will receive an incomplete, which they can make up next year.
The ILC already evaluates students using a competency-based transcript.
While the details of graduation are still being worked out, LBHS Principal Crosby Carpenter and Mounsey are planning a fitting celebration. They’re awaiting guidance from the state, but Carpenter said he’s confident there will be an opportunity for families to celebrate students’ accomplishments in a way that’s “unique and special.”
Methow Valley Elementary teachers have kept students involved in learning through entertaining activities and online innovations. One example is fifth-grade teacher Jennifer Duguay, who’s taken on the challenge with a theatrical flair on her website, Principal Paul Gutzler said. “It’s invigorating to figure out how to do things,” he said.
The district has also been providing child care for children of health care workers, using considerable flexibility to meet everyone’s needs, Gutzler said.
In the meantime, teachers and administrators have been building on community input through the Dream Big process they launched in January as they plan stimulating changes for next year.
Middle school students can look forward to classes and programs specially geared to their needs and interests. LBHS will have a core team of junior high teachers, which will allow staff to teach a double block of humanities (English/language arts and social studies), as well as interdisciplinary opportunities for math and science, Carpenter said.
They’ve also added electives for middle school students, including art, band, drama, engineering and design, and robotics. Other new offerings include an introduction to culinary arts, anatomy, and physiology, and an introduction to construction and design.
School staff are devising a way to create a physically distinct space for junior high classes, plus a junior high identity through separate spirit assemblies and other events, Carpenter said.
At the high school level, science teacher Katie Leuthauser has been approved by the University of Washington (UW) to teach atmospheric science/global warming, a lab science that provides both high school and college credit. The school hopes to expand UW in the High School offerings in the near future, Carpenter said. Other new high school classes include statistics, outdoor recreation, journalism, and robotics.
The ILC is also looking at new programs for next year, including sign language, motivational interviewing, and social-science studies that incorporate restorative practices, Mounsey said.
Methow Valley Elementary students will also see changes in the fall. The changes help accommodate the growing student body, since the school added approximately 100 new students over the past five years.
The elementary school is adopting a new schedule that will make it easier to incorporate Spanish, music, and weekly arts sessions with Methow Arts for kindergarten through third grade. The schedule will also allow regular time in the library and the Classroom in Bloom school garden, Gutzler said. Students will have longer sessions for music and physical education.
Starting in the fall, elementary students will have recess before lunch, which will reduce the number of students on the playground at any one time. With smaller groups on the playground, staff can better support healthy relationships and active play. Schools that hold recess before lunch have seen students waste less food, eat healthier meals, and return to class more prepared to learn, Gutzler said.
In other business, the school board directors approved the gender-inclusive policies and procedures, bringing the district into compliance with state law. Two students reviewed the policy before the adoption. They were very appreciative of the opportunity to provide feedback and supportive of the policy, Mounsey said.