Perry teachers go that extra mile for onsite, online students

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The Perry School Board received a report Monday on the first three weeks' progress under the district's Return to Learn plan.

If the Perry School Board harbored any doubts about whether the district’s faculty and staff were earning their wages this year, those thoughts were expelled Monday night, when the board learned how far above and beyond the call of duty the district’s employees are going every day to meet the needs of their students both onsite and online.

Four Perry teachers and two staff members described in detail the forced marriage of teaching and technology that the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has brought about in the schools, and they explained how they go about satisfying needs of the district’s 1,200 in-person learners and 225 virtual learners every day.

PCSD Superintendent Clark Wicks began by telling the board that the district’s Return to Learn plan, now in its fourth week, is “going very, very well,” and the “teachers, principals, directors have done a ton with their online as well as balancing our onsite platforms.”

Wicks and the four teachers were unanimous in thanking the school board for approving the 90-minute early dismissal schedule, which the teachers use “so that we can balance both platforms,” Wicks said. The teachers also confirmed spending an additional two to four hours daily, outside of the regular school day, in job-related tasks.

To help orient the board to the presentations, PCSD Technology Director Rich Nichols explained that Google Classroom is the umbrella platform under which the teachers range a wide variety of course content and learning tools, such as Screencastify, Zoom, Google Hangouts, SeeSaw and others.

Sixth grade science teacher Angie Baudet then demonstrated the Amplify Science K-8 curriculum package, which she uses to instruct and assess her middle school students. Many lessons have an associated video, .PDF and other items attached, Baudet said, and these are available not only to the online learners but to all the students in her classes. So if an onsite student did not quite grasp something presented today in class, he can review the lesson again tonight online.

PHS business teacher Broc Sorensen, a second-year teacher, described the delivery methods he uses in teaching five classes. Like Baudet, Sorensen said he was grateful to the school board for the extra 90 minutes a day. Even though he spent much of July creating some 40 hours of prerecorded content in advance of the school year, “I still use that time from 1:15 to 2:45 every day to work with students or communicate with parents or other teachers,” Sorensen said.

“Thank you to the board for the time that you guys have given us, in the face of some pressure, to allow us to get this stuff done because it is a massive undertaking,” he said. With 20 online students, he spends two to four hours a night at work, he said.

Perspectives from the Perry Elementary School were provided by fifth grade teacher Sam Elliott and second grade teacher Julie Elliott. They agreed that the younger the learners, the greater their challenge in manipulating the technology.

“A lot of our time is spent walking them through even how to start the computer,” said Julie Elliott. Sam Elliott agreed that a lot of time was given in the first weeks to introducing the technology, but things are now falling into place.

“The process is improving each week,” he said, “and we’re seeing a lot of success online.”

Instructional coach Kellie Seales also said technology issues consumed a lot of time in the first few weeks, with her and the four other instructional coaches assisting teachers with on-call computer help for teachers, particularly the training videos for veteran instructors who might be less digitally adept than their junior colleagues.

“The designated online training time is overwhelmingly essential and necessary,” Seales said, “and they were extremely grateful to have it. It’s almost not possible to live without that.”

Wicks thanked the teachers and staff members for their presentations and for the “amazing transformation” they have brought about in a mere two months.

The school board commended the workers for their diligence in serving students during a difficult period. Board member Casey Baldwin said he approved the provisions for online students while still eager to see all students back in the classrooms.

“Not that I don’t support it,” Baldwin said, “but it’s the number one call that I get now is about the hour-and-a-half a day that students that are in person are now away from the school classroom.”

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