September 22, 2020 9:51:00 AM
Tess Vrbin - [email protected]
Nearly 300 students in grades 8-12 in the Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District signed up for a "hybrid" learning environment for the semester due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But beginning Oct. 5, they will have to choose between traditional instruction and virtual-only.
A Monday announcement from Superintendent Eddie Peasant said students in the hybrid learning model must switch to entirely online or traditional learning after the hybrid model proved ineffective for both students and teachers.
Two hundred-fifteen students at Starkville High School and 80 at Armstrong Junior High School have been learning online three days a week and attending classes in person the other two days. Those students have not been learning and progressing at the rate the district hoped for, SHS Principal Howard Savage said.
"They would be doing great work on the two days they were here, but there were times they were lagging behind the other three days," he said.
Students who are doing well in hybrid learning can choose between traditional and virtual, but those who are struggling are strongly encouraged to choose traditional, Savage said.
In July, SOCSD moved its start date from Aug. 6 to Aug. 24 to prepare teachers for the larger percentage of virtual students than previously anticipated. Balancing virtual and traditional learning with so few students using the hybrid option was not viable for teachers, who had to prepare three different types of lesson plans, Peasant said.
"We were not able to dedicate a group of teachers to teach only those students, so it was a strain on the teachers to have an additional option and to effectively educate them," Peasant said.
Savage updated parents on the change via a Zoom conference Monday afternoon, and he said they understood the reasons for it.
SOCSD originally planned to allow students in grades K-5 to change learning models after nine weeks of the semester in October and 6-12 after the semester ends in December.
The online announcement states that the district is considering granting some parents' requests to switch from virtual to traditional learning sooner, and district spokeswoman Nicole Thomas said that could happen as early as this week, a quarter of the way through the semester.
Additionally, students who are not "progressing at a rate of mastery of content" in an entirely virtual learning environment will be encouraged to switch to traditional learning at the nine-week mark, according to the website.
One reason students might not be succeeding in virtual or hybrid learning might be a lack of access to reliable technology, Peasant said. The district will purchase devices for all students with $1.6 million in state grant funding and $600,000 of its own money, and Peasant said those devices should be available in October or November.
CMSD continues hybrid model
Columbus Municipal School District implemented hybrid learning districtwide and allowed an entirely virtual option but did not implement traditional learning. Students on the "A schedule" attend school physically on Mondays and Tuesdays, and students on the "B schedule" attend on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays are for campus disinfection and teacher training.
Hybrid learners at SOCSD, on the other hand, all attend school in person on Mondays and Thursdays -- along with traditional students attending all five days -- and learn from home on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
CMSD Superintendent Cherie Labat said the hybrid and virtual learning plans aligned with parents' responses to a survey conducted over the summer with the goal of keeping students and teachers safe, and so far students are doing well academically thanks to "rigorous instruction."
"It took some intense planning to accommodate the needs of our students, but we felt like it was in the best interest of students and teachers," Labat said.