News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Sisters students will learn from a distance

In a school district like Sisters, which is continually striving to keep students feeling engaged, prepared and connected, the “Distance Learning for All” mandate from Governor Kate Brown’s office has local teachers and administrators working hard to make the best of a very difficult situation.

The mandate comes out of the “Stay At Home, Save Lives” executive order the governor issued last month.

In a letter to the community published April 2, Superintendent Curt Scholl said that on April 6, when teachers got back on the job after spring break, “We intend to immediately start reaching out to our students and families to get a better understanding of what resources they need to help us achieve the ‘Distance Learning for All’ directive from the state,” he wrote.

Scholl’s letter came three days after Oregon Department of Education leader Colt Gill said in an interview with The Oregonian that we are facing “the strong possibility that our students may not come back through our school-house doors this academic year.”

Sisters, along with the rest of the state, suspended school attendance on March 16 and the district’s two week spring break covered March 21-April 5 so Sisters is effectively a week off schedule from the rest of the state as far as the guideline laid out by the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) to implement distance learning. That does not mean the district is lagging behind.

Scholl explained, “In this first week back, as we gather this information, staff will provide supplemental and review materials to re-engage our students. It is our goal to get supplemental material out as quickly as possible and estimate that we should start disseminating materials by Wednesday, April 8. By Friday, April 10, it is our goal to get technology and other learning materials into the hands of those that need it as we transition to distance learning on April 13.”

The state guideline suggests that all school districts “go live” by April 13, which matches Scholl’s goal. Clear communication with families is going to be crucial and will have to be multi-faceted in order to reach everyone. “This is an ever-evolving situation and we will do all we can to keep families updated,” said Scholl.

Scholl acknowledged in his letter that this alternate way of doing school is rife with challenges. “We will need the deep support, patience, and resilience of every member of the Sisters School District including our families and our students, as we shift to a model that attempts to educate students remotely.”

How materials and resources will be delivered and how students will communicate back with teachers has not yet been totally mapped out, according to Scholl, but staff have already begun preparing.

He said, “This distance learning is not just about online education and may, in fact, include a blend of other modes, such as phone calls, recorded video lessons, Canvas, Google Meet and paper packets and materials.”

Pressing questions from families thus far include what will be done for students who don’t have technology (WiFi and/or computer) to access education as well as information about school-based food service.

Scholl said, “Our primary goal the week of April 6 will be for staff to survey all families to determine what needs are out there, including school meals and technology.” He noted that during the last three weeks about 50 students were being served meals and he expects that number to grow.

Social, emotional and mental-health support for students can be tricky when it comes to not being able to meet in person, but district counselors are working on an outreach plan to help ensure support is available, according to Scholl.

Scholl concluded his letter urging everyone to take care of themselves and their families.

“Again, I remind you to take the time to take care of yourselves and those that you love,” he said. “We have an incredibly strong community and together we will continue to navigate the challenges that this crisis presents.”

 

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