SHERWOOD — Following the school shutdown in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, superintendents, administrators, teachers and staff around Ohio spent most of this past summer formulating plans on how to educate students when they eventually returned to school.
As guidelines changed, so did those plans, with districts having to come up with different plans for different scenarios, including a full return to school by all students; most students returning with some staying home to learn virtually; and full remote learning in case school did not open, or shut down again.
Almost every district in the Defiance six-county area has opened its doors for in-person learning, with most students returning to their respective buildings. There is, however, a certain percentage of students still learning from home, due to health circumstances and/or decisions made by their parents/guardians.
While most districts in the area opted to use a virtual academy, such as the Northwest Ohio Virtual Academy (NOVA), to educate students who are not attending in person, the Central Local School District chose a different path.
Fairview Elementary, Middle School and High School students who are not attending in person are being educated via livestream by district teachers from their classrooms, thanks to technology purchased using CARES Act funds. Superintendent Steve Arnold explained, it was what the teachers wanted to do.
“I give credit to our teachers who came to me with this idea,” said Arnold. “I remember it vividly, it was an afternoon in July when two of the union officials suggested that our teachers livestream their classes for students who would be remote learners. I told them, ‘Yes, let’s do that,’ so we spent the better part of three days in the library preparing a plan.
“All of our principals played a role, but (Fairview Middle School principal) Suzanne Geis took the lead and began drafting a plan,” added Arnold. “We then presented that plan to the teachers, discussed it for several hours, and finalized what our educators are doing now. It was a very simple two-page document that outlined the plan, which we then sent to our parents.”
At present, 110 students (11% of the student body) are learning remotely, 39 high school students, 27 middle school students and 44 elementary students.
CARES Act money received by the district was used to purchase cameras for every teacher at Fairview Elementary school, as well as other technology needed to be able to livestream from the classroom (teachers at Fairview Middle/High School are using technology already in place to livestream their classrooms).
One important factor, Arnold pointed out, was the fact that educators wanted to have one consistent platform, so everyone would be on the same page. That platform is Google Classroom, a free web service which streamlines the process of sharing files between teachers and students. The livestream component of Google Classroom is Google Meet, which allows students to sign into their classes from home to learn from their Fairview teachers.
“The choice to use one platform, in our case Google Classroom, was paramount to have consistency,” said Arnold. “We had several teachers on the planning committee, our principals, our tech director and myself, and all I can say is, the teachers have bought in. Our teachers spent two days training how to use the equipment, with special thanks to John Mansel-Playdell (an education technologist from NWOCA) and Chris Malanga (a Google certified trainer).
“Our director of technology, Adam Singer, and assistant director of technology, John Echelbarger, have made themselves readily available every day for teacher and student issues that arise, and we would not be able to do this without their constant intervention,” added Arnold.
Closing in on the end of the first nine weeks, Arnold shared there have been some hiccups along the way, but he couldn’t be happier with how it’s going.
“I’m extremely pleased with the progress we’ve made,” said Arnold. “I spend a fair amount of time in classrooms the first week asking teachers, ‘How is it going?’ The comments were, ‘We’ve got this. Our kids are online, they’re watching and they’re participating.’ Academically, we are getting it done. I do know that if we do take standardized tests this year, I think our students will be ready to go.”