'We are losing some of them’

Chad Frey
Online education, and hybrid learning, has been difficult for some in the Newton school district.

Online education, and hybrid learning, has been difficult for some in the Newton school district.

Teachers have been working upwards of six additional hours a day to deal with onine students — and some of those students are just not responding. It is a concern for district administration as schools move to a hybrid model next week.

“I know that teachers are doing everything possible and just exhausting themselves to connect with these students. It is not a lack of district staff reaching out,” said Mallory Morton, member of the board of education. “... They are doing everything possible to connect with these kids, but there is nothing coming back from the other side.”

In a hybrid model, students attend school in the building twice a week. They are expected to attend online classes and do coursework via internet the other three days of a school week.

“The key is for kids to understand they are online the other day. Some kids think they are off,” said Caleb Smith, principal of Newton High School.

He and superintendent Fred Van Rankin estimated Monday that 30% of high school students are not engaged online during hybrid learning mode — when students spend two days in classrooms and three days online each week.

“We can’t let this go on. It is halfway into semester right now.,“ Van Rankin said. ... We may need to have some interventions.”

Both Chisholm Middle School and Newton High School will finish this week in hybrid mode before going online only next week.

The struggle is not unique to the high school as the district saw 23% of the school participation opt for online-only learning this school year. School administrators say some kids are just not engaging.

“I know it is hard for parents. They are not used to being in that role, of facilitate this,” Van Rankin said. “As a remote learner, that is their responsibility. We can’t be there. This is the only way we can be there. We are meeting live, it is not all prerecorded lessons. ... (Our system) is not perfect but it is pretty darn good.”

Every level has seen struggles with online learning.

“We are losing some of them.,“ Van Rankin said. ”They are not checking in. They are checked out of school. ... They think remote means they do not have to do the work.“

For grades K-6, there are daily morning check-ins with teachers — some of those check-ins are social/emotional outreach by nature while others are course instruction.

“Teachers are checking in at least four times a day, sometimes more,” said Megan Nagle, who has been spearheading online learning efforts in grades K-6. “We don’t want to lose kids. That is what it comes down to.”

The district has implemented a system called Canvass, it creates an online dashboard for students — and parents — to give them access to all class meetings and class assignments.

Assignments can be turned in using Canvass. At the middle school level, assignments can also be turned in using Summit Learning and Google Classrooms depending on the class and teacher requirements.

“I am not going to lie to you. It has been painful to get to this point,” Nagel said. “I have cried. Teachers have cried. Parents have cried. I am happy with where we are at right now. We are starting to get user friendly and impactful for students.”

But the struggle of engagement remains — some students simply do not check in or do the coursework.

Van Rankin and Nagel pointed out that just two months ago teachers did not know what system they would be able to use — and some did not even know they would be teaching remote classes.

This issue is why Jennifer Budde and other school board members have fought to keep buildings open and students attending school in person as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Harvey County.

“We get a lot of pushback for wanting to have our kids in buildings, but this is why,” Budde said. “We know it is hard to be a remote learner and it is not for everyone. We are taking as many precautions as we can in our buildings but we know that is how they learn the best, when they are sitting with us as much as possible.”