As local public schools prepare to reopen with distance learning protocols in place next month, Turlock Unified School District held virtual community forums this week which gave parents a better idea of what the school day will look like.
The forums, held the morning and evening of July 22, allowed Superintendent Dana Salles Trevethan and Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Heidi Lawler to inform the TUSD community, providing answers to questions so that families can move forward with the choice that’s best for their student when it comes to choosing between the Distance Learning Model and Hybrid Learning Model.
TUSD is providing two learning options for students during the 2020-21 school year: The Distance Learning Model, which will see students meet with their teacher and classroom virtually five days a week, or the Hybrid Learning Model, where students will meet with their teacher once per week for an hour and work independently during the other school days.
Stanislaus County Public Health Officer Dr. Julie Vaishampayan announced July 13 that schools should open with distance learning in place to start the academic year due to a surge of coronavirus cases in the area. Should cases stabilize, allowing students to return to school, students enrolled in distance learning will automatically return to campus and those enrolled in the Hybrid Learning Model will continue to be homeschooled.
During Wednesday’s forum, one parent asked if students would have the option to enroll in the Hybrid Learning Model should schools be allowed to reopen. The previous deadline to enroll in Hybrid learning was Friday, but has been extended to July 27.
“We are reluctant to say, ‘Yes, that’s a possibility,’ and the reason why is…we have staffing and credentialing and facilities considerations with that, so as we begin the school year we have the idea that we have a certain number who are in hybrid learning,” Lawler said. “We will take those on a case-by-case basis and work to accommodate them where we can as we move through that process.”
Some parents have asked why TUSD didn’t just delay the start of school until after Labor Day, as three other school districts in Stanislaus County have opted to do.
“I respect my colleagues’ decision in doing that, however, a majority of us felt that a great deal of learning has been lost since we last had students in class mid-March,” Trevethan said. “Our summer school offerings were not as complete as we had hoped, and so we’ve realized that we have got to get students back learning and engaged and connected with educators.”
There are many challenges that come with preparing for both learning models, she added, and encouraged TUSD families in need of internet connections or those who know of a family that does, to contact their respective site’s principal in order to ensure they’re ready for the start of the year.
A silver lining pointed out by Trevethan is that teachers are much better prepared for distance learning this time around. In March, many went home on shelter-in-place orders without taking vital resources and materials from the classroom. Now, teachers and students will have a better understanding of expectations as they head into the new school year.
Included in the community forum were three rough drafts schedules for a day of distance learning in kindergarten, grades 1-6 and grades 7-12. Schedules for each day are organized in blocks of blue and orange, with blue blocks representing time spent working independently and orange signifying screen time with a teacher. In kindergarten, for example, students will spend 8:30 a.m. to 8:55 a.m. participating in Daily Social-Emotional Learning, attendance and guided practice of school work, then work independently for another 35 minutes before a 15-minute break. A similar schedule follows with math, and then the end of the day allows for music, art, physical education or similar enrichment. Teachers are also provided with 20 minutes at the end of the day for student outreach and parent communication.
“We really intend with distance learning to have the day be more similar to a school day so when students come back to school, they’re able to transition well,” Lawler said.
Minimum days will still exist for all elementary, junior high and high school students, whose schedules are similar to that which was provided for kindergarteners. Junior high and high schoolers will transition from period to period, spending about half of the period with their teacher online and the other half independently working.
Schedules are still subject to change and adjustments prior to their approval. To view the community forum presentation, including the schedule drafts, visit www.turlock.k12.ca.us/schoolopening.
As teachers, administration, students and parents look ahead to a much different school year, Trevethan asked for patience.
“There’s this fallacy that we can absolutely accommodate every single student, every single family in every sing household and that we can predict the number of dilemmas or dynamics that might occur related to work, childcare and so forth. I was a single parent of three children and I know how difficult that can be in managing and orchestrating that entire situation even when school is in session, so I cannot imagine what it would be like during this period of time,” Trevethan said.