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Beloit resident Cesar Carrillo-Baez, 24, fills out an absentee ballot on the first day of in-person absentee voting Tuesday at City Hall, 100 State St. In-person absentee voting started Tuesday and runs through Oct. 30 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the first floor of City Hall.


Beloit residents and longtime friends Katie Hansen and Gordon Lobbins (middle) wait in line with other voters to cast early in-person absentee ballots on Tuesday at City Hall, 100 State St. Early in-person absentee voting started on Tuesday for the Nov. 3 general election. Hansen and Lobbins say they have voted early together for years and are always looking to beat Election Day crowds.


Covid-19
featured
School staff works to get students engaged in distance learning

BELOIT — School District of Beloit principals and staff are monitoring all students’ distance learning and trying to remove any barriers to participation.

Whether it means helping them access the internet, getting them paper materials or showing up on their doorstep, school staff are trying to keep as many students engaged as possible as the district remains in distance education through Jan. 22 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

McNeel Intermediate School Principal Michelle Hendrix-Nora said live lessons are offered in the morning and afternoon with some teachers providing evening support. Grade level teams meet four times a week, do triage in situations where students aren’t attending and then set out to reach them by phone, email, text or by finding a sibling.

McNeel’s Student Success Team also meets every Tuesday with the names of any students they haven’t been able track down. Team members work to see if the student is still in the district or may have moved. If it’s determined the student is still within the district, a home visit will be made.

Staff also have made paper class materials available for some families who don’t have wifi access. The students can take pictures of their paperwork and send it back via smart phones. Students doing paperwork as opposed to online learning get biweekly check-ins from their teachers.

“Most students are engaged and logging in. The challenge is to keep the students engaged and energized to do their assignments and to learn to work independently,” Hendrix-Nora said.

At Robinson Elementary School all students received “Cougar Connections” drawstring bags with supplies and all families received an individual contact by the student’s teacher at the beginning of the school year, according to Principal Belinda McCarthy.

McCarthy said teachers teach live in morning and afternoon sessions so families can join one or the other. To make it easier on families, McCarthy said homework is minimized.

“Because the students are with teachers live, the teachers are able to instruct and guide them through their work so it can be completed with the teacher,” she said.

There have been a few families opting not to do online learning, but the school reaches out on a weekly basis and provides paper packets and materials for the students to do at home.

“They either take pictures and send it back or return the work weekly,” McCarthy said. “We’ve been able to connect with every parent. Either they confirm they can join us or we develop a plan to keep their child engaged in learning. My staff is amazing. Our families feel supported. They know we will help them through and are trying to do whatever we can.”

Beloit Memorial High School Principal Emily Pelz said high schoolers are sometimes challenged to do their live sessions as they are balancing work or helping siblings with their online learning.

“It takes special skills to do something like distance learning. They have to be self-motivated and so it’s a different way. Students aren’t used to it so it’s important we support them through this process,” Pelz said.

Pelz said getting more high schoolers engaged is a challenge. Staff are making phone calls and doing home visits when necessary. Teachers meet every Monday to discuss student data. Based on information they have on student attendance and grade, staff determine how to reach out and help.

Executive Director of Pupil Services Melissa Beavers said the district has categorized attendance into three tiers: Tier 1, 75% or more attendance; Tier 2, is 50-74%; and Tier 3 is less than 50%.

Students classified in Tier 1 or 3 are brought before the “students of concern” team made up of counselors, building administration and psychologists who attempt to make contact with families and do home visits if necessary.

Beavers said there are some families who have said online learning is too much and they aren’t going to do it. At this point there is nothing punitive toward families who do not do distance learning. The district focuses on doing all it can to remove any barriers to success such as helping families find wifi or getting families connected with other resources to help them get their students re-engaged.


Eva Laun-Smith (6) and the Bucs volleyball team had their fall season postponed by COVID-19 concerns


Blackhawk Technical College Manager of Campus Safety and Emergency Preparedness Brad Smith examines a COVID-19 self-testing kit on Tuesday at the central campus. Free testing will be offered for community members on campus this week.


Covid-19
Report: Some students not engaged with distance learning

BELOIT — The percentage of students participating in the School District of Beloit distance learning was more than 70% at two elementary schools; an average of 83% at one intermediate school; and an average of 60% at the high school level.

The district is offering distance education only through Jan. 22 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The information is gleaned from a report, “Distance Learning: Voices from area schools” given at a recent Oversight and Finance Committee meeting and provided to the newspaper by Interim Superintendent Dan Keyser after the Daily News first inquired about student engagement rates for the district on Oct. 7.

The report provided was designed to be a snapshot of student engagement and highlighted statistics and efforts to bolster student engagement at Gaston and Robinson elementary schools, McNeel Intermediate School and Beloit Memorial High School.

It did not feature data from the other schools in the district so overall attendance rates in distance learning is still unknown. The district-wide participation rates could be lower than what was highlighted in the presentation on the select schools as lower performing schools were omitted.

For example, the report did not include attendance data on the lowest scoring schools such as Fruzen Intermediate School and Merrill Elementary School as rated by the 2018-2019 state report card, the latest data available, viewable on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction website at https://dpi.wi.gov. Merrill Elementary received only two out of five stars, or “meets few expectations” with an overall score of 56.9 on the report card and Fruzen Intermediate School received only one star on the report card, or “fails to meet expectations” and an overall score of 51.4.

Also missing from the report was Converse, Hackett, Todd, Cunningham and the district’s alternative school Beloit Learning Academy. Aldrich and Fruzen’s efforts to reach students were mentioned, but no data was provided.

When asked why the data only included a portion of the schools, Keyser emailed the Daily News that the premise of the presentation was to get a pulse on how things were going during distance learning for term 1. As a result, he said he asked some of the schools to present and be representative of the district. He said it was never his intention to have all schools present at the committee meeting.

Keyser said the newspaper could obtain data on the other schools by reaching out to their respective principals, which the newspaper will pursue in the coming weeks.

At Gaston Elementary School 74% of 4K through third grades were engaged in live instruction and activities, according to the report.

At Robinson Elementary School, student engagement in the various grades was as follows: third grade, 78% to 80% attendance; second grade 81% to 84% attendance; first 65% to 67% attendance; kindergarten, 72% attendance; and 4K, 51% to 67% attendance.

At McNeel Intermediate School the attendance percentages were as follows as of Oct. 13: fourth grade, 87%; fifth grade: 87%; sixth grade, 79%; seventh grade, 81%; and eighth grade, 79%.

Current attendance rates at Beloit Memorial High School were as follows: ninth, 61%; tenth, 58%; eleventh, 61%; and twelfth, 61%.

Beloit Memorial High School Principal Emily Pelz said the data presented from the high school is based on the percentage of students who are regularly attending the live teaching sessions and doesn’t include students who are doing the assignments and getting all their work without logging into the online sessions.

“Many of them are still turning in their assignments,” Pelz said.

Because of the data only tracking students logging into online class presentations, she said it may not accurately reflect overall student engagement.

Pelz said staff are continuing to meet to try to find the best way to collect data to measure student engagement so they can respond better

“Staff are working really hard to support distance learning and support our students through it. We are proud of the work we are doing and are striving to do better. The more we learn, the better we can make this,” she said.