Grain Valley Schools, in line with several other districts in the area, has decided to delay the start of school and develop a hybrid model of instruction for students in grades 6-12.
The School Board voted during a special meeting on July 30th to change the start of the school year to Tuesday, September 8th. The Board also approved a recommendation by the administration to change to a hybrid model of instruction for students in grades 6-12. Families will continue to have full time virtual as an option.
Middle school and high school students with a last name beginning with A-J will be in person on Mondays and Wednesdays and those with last names beginning with K-Z will be in person on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Students will learn virtually from home the other three days each week.
Elementary students will attend school in person full time. The Early Childhood Center will also begin school with its traditional in-person model.
“Jackson County health officials have asked school districts to consider starting the school year virtually and to delay the start of the school year until after Labor Day - both due to case numbers in Jackson County trending the wrong direction. We have chosen the option we feel responds to county concerns, while ensuring at least some in person instruction for all students. Going with our hybrid model for middle school and high school students hopefully sets up everyone involved with the greatest chance of a consistent and predictable routine,” Brad Welle, Deputy Superintendent, Student and Community Services, said.
“By reducing the number of students who are in our middle schools and high school at one time, we reduce the likelihood that a confirmation of a positive case with one student leads to large numbers of students being excluded for 14 days at a time. Elementary students, by comparison, stay with the same group of classmates much of their day. If the need arises for a classroom of students to stay home along the way due to exposure, we are less likely to need to close an entire elementary school due to widespread inter-mingling of students like what you find in a middle school or high school operating at full capacity.”
In an email to parents announcing the decision, the district stated it is committed to the hybrid model through at least September.
In an effort to further reduce course loads at the high school level during this time, students will follow their “A” day schedule for the first nine weeks of the school year and their “B” day schedule for the second nine weeks.
Middle school students will be equipped with Chromebooks, and high school students will be receiving Dell 3100 Chromebooks this fall.
“The current plan is for students to come to the high school during their assigned date and time window for a ‘Chromebook swap’ where they will receive their new device,” Welle said.
Details regarding the Chromebook swap for high school students will be communicated by the school in the near future.
The district had already planned to replace high school student Chromebook devices this school year. Devices still in good working condition will be used to supplement devices in elementary schools.
While the elementary schools are planning in-person learning full-time, the district is implementing a new learning management system, called Seesaw, at the elementary level to support virtual learning.
Families without access to the internet may contact their schools to request mobile hotspots for student use.
While students have gained a few extra weeks of summer break, teachers and administrators have been hard at work preparing for the new school year.
“By delaying the start of our school year by two weeks and beginning after Labor Day, we are able to front load a year's worth of teacher professional learning days before the first day of school. The focus of our teacher training in August will be to support the adoption of the hybrid model in middle school and high school, and to prepare for any other need for online learning K-12 this year that arises. Our goal is for any virtual experience this year to look very different from last spring. We intend to set our parents up to be supportive parents to their children, rather than feeling like too much of the teaching burden for all these subjects is on them,” Welle said.
Dr. Amanda Allen, Principal at Grain Valley North Middle School, said that teachers and administrators are excited to have students return to school this fall.
“We are so thankful for the opportunity to see our students in person. Being in-person is essential to building relationships and connections with students. Ever since the decision for hybrid learning was made, I have witnessed our teachers immediately shift their planning to accommodate for part in-person and part virtual instruction. They are eager to meet their new students and see the new opportunities this learning model will bring, such as increased one-on-one time with smaller daily in-person numbers and more personalized and individual attention,” Allen said.
Parents had a taste of online learning this past spring, but Allen explains the focus will be different in the fall.
“Hybrid learning will vary greatly from the virtual learning last spring. While I believe our staff did a fantastic job of staying in contact with students last spring, our primary focus was not the learning of new material. In the spring, we focused mostly on maintaining school-home connections and making sure students knew that we cared and were there to support them. This fall, our teachers will receive extensive training in blended learning and virtual learning models. All teachers will have a learning management system and proper tool training for conducting online courses.”
“With the hybrid learning model, secondary teachers will work to flip much of their direct instruction. Flipped instruction asks students to watch videos, complete and annotate readings, actively research, or practice new skills that will then be put to use during the in-person instruction. Many of our teachers have spent their summer filming direct instruction videos for the upcoming school year. The in-person instruction will be a valuable time where students can collaborate (safely distanced), hold discussions and discourse, participate in hands-on activities (with elaborate cleaning protocols), and receive in-person feedback from their teachers.”
While families had to adjust quickly in the spring to home-based learning, Allen has some tips for families to create the best learning environment at home.
“Based on child development research and our own experiences as a district this past spring, we know that students perform better when a consistent routine is in place. Keeping a regular sleep schedule, establishing regular learning hours, and maintaining regular mealtimes on both virtual and in-person days will keep students more attentive and engaged in their learning. The other benefit of keeping a schedule throughout the week is that it will better serve students when teachers are available for ‘live’ online help on Fridays during regular school hours,” Allen said.
“The other key to success at home is frequent communication. Teachers, students, and parents/guardians should be in constant contact. With students attending in person two days a week and virtually three days a week, we want to ensure that the two in person days are not the only days that students interact with their teachers. Students will receive feedback virtually on online assignments that are essential to their education. It is essential that teachers and parents/guardians partner to keep students actively engaged and adjusted to the new instructional strategies.”