Schoolcraft Schools Working to Adopt Distance Learning

jennie stull
Jennifer Stull, Schoolcraft kindergarten teacher, prepares for distance teaching.

By Travis Smola

After the coronavirus pandemic caused an early end to the school year, many districts are now looking for solutions to make sure children don’t fall behind. In Schoolcraft, that includes turning bus drivers and other non-teaching staff into mentors.

Schoolcraft Superintendent Rusty Stitt ran through a draft of an instructional plan with the Board of Education during its April meeting. That meeting was held online via Zoom due to the Governor’s stay-at-home orders. The plan covers how the district will continue instruction at a time when students and teachers cannot interact face-to-face.

“We have in a short amount of time, done some amazing things and we have put some good programming in place for our kiddos,” Stitt said. “Our staff have been nothing but supportive throughout this process. This is a plan that is certainly collaborative.”

Stitt said under the Governor’s executive order, they are now required to do some distance learning with their students. That leads to the challenge of how exactly to go about it. Stitt said there has already been a distribution of printed materials for students to work on, but e-learning is still going to play a huge role.

There are many web programs in place to help; students are already familiar with some. Elementary students will be using a remote learning program called Seesaw to interact with teachers and complete assignments.

Older students will be using Google Classroom in a greater capacity. The district will also look to start putting teachers in direct contact with students via phone, email or Zoom. In some cases, they may be doing group learning sessions completely online.

Student services are also being maintained in this time. Stitt said staff members have been working hard to provide social and emotional support to the students who need it at every grade level.

“We also have a full-time social worker that’s just doing a phenomenal job,” Stitt said.

They are taking a unique approach by involving the drivers and other non-teaching staff. Many have now received additional training to serve as coaches and mentors to students. Each will be assigned up to four students to help in online school lessons. Stitt says these are students who need extra encouragement or coaching. The benefit is twofold: The district can keep paying employees who can’t do their usual tasks when the school is closed, and the teachers get a little extra help making sure students are keeping up with their lessons.

“We have over 50 coaches that will be working with our kiddos,” Stitt said.

Stitt said they’ve also had over 20 volunteers helping serve breakfast and lunch to over 160 children every day for seven days a week. Board Treasurer Kathy Mastenbrook brought up concerns about reaching all students and making sure none get left behind. Stitt said they are doing weekly checks to gauge where each student is at in the process.

If a student is falling behind or isn’t completing assignments, teachers and staff will try to adapt a different approach to reach and help those students. Stitt said they also may offer summer learning programs to help students catch up.

“We will follow Governor Whitmer’s executive order and again, do our best in teaching through technology and other means,” Stitt said. “Our teachers are still a lead role with communicating with the parents and the students alike.”

The board unanimously voted a show of support of the plans. After that, high school principal Matthew Dailey and elementary school principal Matt Webster both spoke up with praise for the teachers and their handling of the COVID-19 situation.

“Credit to our teachers because from the moment that this hit back in March, they’ve done nothing but ask how we can put together a good plan to make sure kids and families are supported,” Webster said. “If you see a teacher or get an email from one, shoot them one back and say ‘thanks for what you’re doing’ because they’ve done nothing but work hard the whole time. They’ve been fantastic.”

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