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.