Just as the coronavirus pandemic seems to be an ever-changing situation, Turlock Unified School District is still figuring out what works best for its teachers, students and staff when it comes to distance learning.
Beginning Monday, whole class instruction for elementary students in preschool through sixth grade will conclude before lunch. Rather than more class time in front of a screen, afternoons will now be devoted to accommodating students’ individual learning needs whether they need the time to complete their school work, communicate with their teacher or if their parents have questions. The additional time will also allow more time for staff to meet State requirements, according to TUSD.
In plans posted to their website, TUSD stated that the decision to modify the distance learning schedule was made based on feedback from all stakeholder groups and to plan for sustainability should learning from home go on longer than originally anticipated. Educational Services and Human Resources collaborated with members of the planning committee and Turlock Teachers Association leadership in order to create the modified schedules. In addition to TK-6 instruction ending before lunch, secondary schedules have also been modified to end earlier in the day.
“We recognize some parents have shared concerns with the planned changes to the distance learning schedules. Unfortunately, we’ve come to realize there is no pleasing everyone during this pandemic state so we are doing our best to monitor, listen and pivot when we become aware of struggles and concerns of most,” TUSD said. “We will continue striving to do what’s best for both our TUSD students and staff during this challenging time while also being mindful that the constant change in the world right now is causing many to experience anxiety, stress and isolation. We are in this together.”
New distance learning schedules for TK-6 will provide time in the afternoon for students to receive one-on-one or small group support from the teacher at scheduled times, complete independent practice assignments from the morning session, practice skills through TUSD’s supplemental support programs for ELA and math intervention/enrichment, communicate with the teacher as part of outreach and wellness checks as needed and complete State requirements related to monitoring attendance and student engagement.
While the new schedules are shorter, the learning time which is comprised of live instruction, video and recorded content, digital learning and student independent work time exceeds the State minimum of 180 minutes for TK and K, 230 minutes for grades 1 through 3 and 240 minutes for grades 4 through 12.
“Our hope is to provide a balanced approach to the challenges of learning at home,” TUSD said.
TUSD still has two learning models available for students: Distance Learning Model and the Hybrid Learning Model. The hybrid model is also undergoing changes due to State mandates, which now requires teachers to engage with hybrid students daily, rather than weekly. Full-time hybrid teachers may meet with all of their students once a day for 15 minutes, while part-time hybrid teachers could invite their students to join a morning 15-minute class.
While TUSD is not currently allowing students to make the change from distance learning to the hybrid model, hybrid students interested in switching to distance learning based on these new mandates had the option to do so. However, TUSD will revisit this decision if and when schools return to in-person instruction.
TUSD is currently preparing a reopening plan for its elementary schools in hopes that waivers allowing them to do so will soon be approved by Public Health as the number of positive COVID-19 cases continues to fall. Still, Superintendent Dana Sales Trevethan cautioned that the process cannot be a “rapid reopening” in this week’s update to the TUSD community.
“It is a sign of the times when just as we were working on making some modifications to our distance learning models, we are already considering the move to another. I know the tremendous amount of time and effort staff is putting into distance learning and, to be honest, I worry about the potential ‘yo-yo effect’ of reopening schools only to have Labor Day festivities—if they are like every other holiday this summer—lead to a spike in infections that may trigger closures…putting us right back to where we started,” Trevethan said. “That being said, I still continue to believe that the best place for teachers to teach and students to learn is in a classroom setting. At this time, we will continue completion of the elementary waiver for submission while monitoring, and being mindful of, the most reliable data to plan for reopening.
“The ‘US’ in TUSD is more important now than ever and the safety and best interests of our students and staff will continue to remain at the forefront of this process. Your patience is appreciated; your support is critical.”
For more information or to view the updated distance learning schedules, visit www.turlock.k12.ca.us/DLschedules.