Teachers, students log back in

Textbooks and supplies ring the atrium at Emmett High as a make-shift resource room for students now engaged in a distance learning environment.

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The first week of distance learning at Emmett High is in the books and for many students it means a return to books. Whether those books are page turners or swipe-left digital experiences depend on the class and the assignments being completed.

The return to class without the use of classrooms began last Monday and appear to be meeting the Emmett School District goals of re-engaging students in an attempt to complete the school year despite the COVID-19 shutdowns.

“It takes time to adapt to new routines,” ESD superintendent Craig Woods wrote to parents, students and staff during the week. “When the district administration began the planning process to deliver education to all K-12 students within the district, our goal was to provide a high quality distance education. That continues to be our goal today.”

Woods called the current adjustments “an amazing opportunity to provide student-centered instruction combined with an effort to engage students, parents and community in learning at an unprecedented level.”

What that looks like at Emmett High is a lot of direct communication between students and teachers through electronic means supplemented with actual paper and pencil requirements. A heavily monitored entry to EHS allows students to deliver completed hand-written completed assignments and projects. Hardback books and other supplies are arrayed in the school foyer for distribution to the students as needed.

Video conferencing has become a staple in the teacher-student interface but is not the only tool in play. Not all students have the full video conferencing capabilities so many classes are being conducted with a combination of video, telephone connection and online chat rooms – sometimes at once.

The Messenger Index was invited to join a meeting of the EHS Biology Club on Friday. With teacher Robin Wilson leading from her home, a number of students logged in to the video connection or Google Meet. A couple of others were in a shared telephone connection with Wilson and others were commenting via computer chat. Despite the diversity of media hookups, a coherent conversation between all parties allowed them to not only share information but exchange opinions and ideas.

The communication between teachers and students will be critical in completing this year’s prescribed curriculum. The role of parents in this endeavor is also being cited by Woods as a key component.

“We need your help,” Woods relayed to parents in his latest letter. He asked parents to help provide students a “structure with a daily schedule...make their learning a priority during this closure.”

He also encouraged students and staff to “seize this opportunity” to engage and connect.

Emmett was among the first schools in Idaho to reconnect teachers and students. Several schools have announced plans to initiate distance learning later this week. West Ada, the state’s largest school district, is planning to begin district wide distance learning April 13.

Adapting the experiences being realized at the high school to middle school and elementary school students is the task facing ESD this week as it continues to implement a full distance learning environment for its students.

Whether this school year is going to be completed in a distance learning environment is yet to be determined. Monday the State Board of Education was to meet to review the “soft closure” of Idaho schools. Ten states have officially closed their schools for the remainder of the academic year.

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