WGSD Virtual Program Continues
Many families chose to have their children attend school virtually this fall. They will continue in this model until January, when they have the opportunity to switch to in-person learning or remain at home learning remotely.
Curriculum goals, outcomes for students, grading and student expectations are the same for both in-person and virtual classes as are the hours of the school day.
Improvements for Virtual Learning
Using feedback from surveys of sixth through 12th grade students, families and staff, administrators developed plans to improve the virtual learning experience for children who will continue taking their classes at home. Themes found in the survey responses included difficulties related to scheduling, communication and technology, student services/ instructional supports and student and staff connections.
Recommended actions are
Provide one half-day of asynchronous time on Wednesdays for teacher planning and collaboration. Students will have some independent tasks to complete and will have extra time away from the screen. In addition, based on needs reflected in the most recent survey results, some grade levels made changes to their individual schedules. Schools will communicate any changes that are being made.
Communication and Technology
Improve communication by developing a flow chart showing when messages for families should come from the district and when from the building; streamline communications to families with secondary students so that they don't get multiple emails with the same message and direct teachers to list their names in the subject line rather than just the class name and hour.
Assist families using Canvas and Zoom by creating districtwide expectations for what should appear at the top of teachers' Canvas pages (name, Zoom link, course/grade, contact information).
Create short videos for families on how to handle common tech problems and let families know about tech tips on the district website.
Student Services/Instructional Supports
Develop criteria for identifying students who need support. Students identified in need of academic, engagement, technology and/or social-emotional support will be invited to participate in a learning monitoring program.
Student and Staff Connections
Establish a structure for in-person visits for teachers and students, following health and safety guidelines, and develop a plan for safe indoor visits if outdoors isn't possible or preferred.
Steger Sixth Grade Center teacher Tracey Mack teaches his students virtually.
Virtual Learning in WGSD From the Student Perspective
By Gracie Hedenberg
The shift from in-person learning to virtual learning back in the spring was monumental for students all over the world, and students in the Webster Groves School District are no exception. Teachers, students, parents, and staff were thrown for a loop in an unnavigated virtual world. Before March, to many people, zoom was just a verb, and canvas was just a type of fabric (Oh, how things have changed!).
Since returning to learning after an extended spring break, some students have struggled. They cited issues with technology, distractions at home, lack of motivation and an air of confusion and new-ness. That is not to say there are not some upsides to virtual learning. Many students celebrated the opportunity to work at their own pace, the flexibility of workstations, the shorter commute to the “classroom” and the kitchen and the creativity of WGSD staff members to make the best of the new situation.
The consensus among most students surveyed was that virtual school is more difficult than in-person school, despite the perks that may come with it. One student said, “It’s more difficult to have conversations [with teachers] about information and to ask questions.” Another said, “I feel that I retain more information when learning in person rather than online, where there are more distractions.”
Technology can be both a blessing and a curse: Staring at a screen for extended amounts of time is difficult for students of any age, but particularly for our youngest students. The purpose of school goes beyond what grades students may achieve or what they may learn within the classroom; social interaction is vital for the mental health of kids and teens, and, for many kids, seeing your classmates through a screen is just not the same. To quote one of our WGHS juniors, “I miss the interactions with people, talking to my friends, and even just saying hi to people in the hall.”
To alleviate some of the irregularity of this school year, Webster students of all ages have found many ways to safely interact outside of scheduled zoom classes. These ways include virtual club meetings, bike riding with friends, and RSVP drive-through coffee stations at the high school, to name a few. Since St. Louis County has lifted certain restrictions, students throughout the district are turning to sports after feeling cooped up during the school day, which also allows a way to interact with peers. Learning online affects kids during the school day and during their free time and homework time as well. The ways we have adapted and will continue to adapt will shape the way students learn, and how they will interact with their peers moving forward.
With most elementary school students back in person by the end of October and middle and high schoolers returning in November, many of these issues will be resolved. And though masked learning will be an adjustment for all learners and educators, our community is up for it! We have adapted throughout this unusual school experience because of the dedication and sacrifices from families, students and staff and the transition to in-person learning will be no different.