Greater Lansing schools continue classes remotely. But what will school look like next fall? – Lansing State Journal - Freelance Rack

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Monday, May 4, 2020

Greater Lansing schools continue classes remotely. But what will school look like next fall? – Lansing State Journal

LANSING — Students used to line up for lunch at school; now they line up for laptops.

Students and their parents drove up to Lansing Everett High School on April 28 to pick up their laptops. Most local schools are handing out their equipment or paper packets so students can do their work from home. It’s their new normal for the rest of the school year after COVID-19 concerns prompted Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to close school buildings across the state.

“Until we get the health situation straightened out, this is our normal right now,” said Sam Sinicropi, Lansing School District’s interim superintendent.

School leaders, like those from Lansing School District, East Lansing Public Schools, Waverly Community Schools and Grand Ledge Public Schools, must now begin planning for the start of the 2020-21 school year. Yet leaders still don’t know what “back to school” will look like.

Nationally, education leaders interviewed by the USA Today had some ideas. They predict that if students can return to their school buildings in the fall, they’ll likely encounter spaced out desks; classes held in gyms, libraries and other larger rooms to allow teachers to keep students distanced from each other; and plenty of handwashing and desk sanitizing.

School leaders also could look at staggered arrival and dismissal times; having students eat lunch at their desks; and scheduling school two or three days a week with students doing the rest of their work at home.

For now, local educators are helping students finish this school year.

An uncertain future for students

The start of a new school year is exciting for many students. It will be a critical time for educators.

Most local students went to their final classes of the school year on March 13. If school starts on time in the fall, they will have spent almost six months outside the classroom. Educators are looking at how they can quickly make up for that lost time.

A group at Grand Ledge Public Schools began going grade by grade, looking at how much the students have missed from this school year while determining how to recover those lessons without falling behind in teaching next year’s material, said Superintendent Brian Metcalf.

Some of the catching up likely will happen during the two to three weeks that teachers normally spend reviewing material students learned in the previous year before introducing fresh content.

East Lansing Public Schools is taking a similar approach. 

“Our teachers adapt and teach students who come into their classrooms each fall at many different skill levels,” Superintendent Dori Leyko said in an email. “We will adjust curriculum as needed to teach content and skills that are typically taught in the spring.” 

Instructional coaches and interventionists at Waverly Community Schools are in the middle of making similar plans while waiting to see if they’ll be allowed to reopen the schools in the fall.

“It takes a village and I have a great team,” said Superintendent Kelly Blake. “Everyone is stepping up. It’s definitely unprecedented and we are learning as we go, but we’re getting there. I’m thankful for that.”

Extending the 2020-21 school year would help educators with that challenge, Metcalf said. A longer school year would help students catch up and increase achievement levels, he said, but state legislators would the ones to make that decision and it appears they haven’t yet considered the option.

A Michigan State University report recommends increasing educational time for students, whether that includes longer school days or a longer school year. Some states, like Ohio, already gave schools the power to make that decision, according to the report.

“Students are unlikely to catch up on lost learning time and succeed in meeting standards for the next academic year without expanded instructional time,” the report reads.

Schools could need financial support to pull off a longer school year, according to the report. Some already face potential financial concerns.

The Waverly Community School budget looked good before schools closed for the pandemic, but officials had to spend money to provide services they hadn’t planned for, like free meals for students and adjustments for remote teaching. Blake said the 2020-21 budget could be impacted.

Metcalf and Grand Ledge officials have been having their own financial discussions. Lansing School District hasn’t seen a significant financial burden yet, Sinicropi said.

Students are back to learning

When students were sent home to wait out the pandemic in mid-March, Michigan’s education officials initially said remote learning efforts being patched together in some districts would not count toward state required instructional time. In part, they were concerned that not all students in the state would have equal opportunity to learn.

As the impact of the new coronavirus became more clear, the state told schools to prepare remote lessons for the rest of this school year. A directive signed by Whitmer required school districts to submit remote learning plans that assure every student can access learning materials.

For mid-Michigan students, instruction resumed remotely last week.

The learning plans vary from district to district, but all include lessons online or in printed packets.

Districts loaned out thousands of classroom computers for students who need them to do the online work, including nearly 2,000 Lansing School District laptops for middle and high school students, plus another 1,200 laptops and about 90 Apple iPads for Waverly students.

East Lansing students in kindergarten through second grade also received iPads, Leyko said, while all older students who needed them received laptops. She estimated that one device was checked out for every two or three of the district’s nearly 3,700 students, with 700 to 800 more device requests coming in.

Grand Ledge parents could request devices for their students and, if they don’t have internet access, students can work on their computers near four school district buildings equipped with available WiFi.

East Lansing schools provided students with information on where or how to access free internet services, Leyko said.

Blake hopes to see a focus in the next academic year on how schools can help families connect to the internet if they don’t already have access. Students in her district have to seek their own solutions, Blake said, after Waverly officials looked into buying internet hotspots for students, but could not find any to purchase.

Fortunately, she said, just a small percentage don’t have access.

Sinicropi went to one of the Lansing laptop distribution sites and watched as students came and excitedly waved at their teachers.

“It was heartwarming to see the greetings they both gave each other,” he said. “You can see the kids miss the teachers and the teachers miss the kids.”

Maintaining contact with students through internet learning platforms or other means is critical.

The Waverly Community Schools education plan includes time every week for teachers to communicate with each individual student, Blake said, through virtual meetings, phone calls or email messages. Teachers notify their principal if they don’t hear anything from a student.

Those who struggle with their lessons under the improvised system won’t see their grades impacted. Under Whitmer’s order, students cannot receive a final grade that is lower than the grade they had on the final day of in-person classes. And those with failing grades can complete extra work to raise it or to gain credit.

“This is such an unbelievably interesting time that nobody knew, nobody could foresee this,” Sinicropi said. “We wanted to give kids a chance. We wanted to give everyone an option of doing the best they could.”

It’s also possible for students to ignore the online work and get an early start to their summer vacation without their grades taking a hit. Sinicropi hopes students will choose to continue their learning.

Blake also said removing academic penalties for remote learning was necessary. “It’s a matter of equity,” she said. “We don’t want to penalize the students if they don’t have the resources they need to participate.”

Metcalf has seen most students excited to get back to work and connect with their teachers and classmates, but they still miss being in the building. His daughter dearly misses her classes. But teachers are doing what they can to get students through these unprecedented times.

“This is probably the crisis of my career thus far. But I’m blessed to be in Grand Ledge,” Metcalf said. “We’re just blessed to have the support that we do and the people that we’re working with. I’m not going to say it’s been easy, but the cooperation that we’ve had with all of our groups and all of our people has been wonderful.”

Contact Mark Johnson at 517-377-1026 or at majohnson2@lsj.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ByMarkJohnson.



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