May 20, 2020 10:58 AM

Ellis staff: Continuous learning challenge for parents, students

Posted May 20, 2020 10:58 AM

Hays Post

ELLIS — The principals of the Ellis schools reported to the school board last week about the results of continuous learning this spring.

They were mixed with some students excelling in the format and others struggling, the administrators said.

"We just got done with the continuous learning plan. I could lie and say that everything went wonderful and the teachers loved it and kids loved it, but it was a trying time," said John Befort, Washington Grade School principal.

"We knew we would have those kids that would just jump right in and do it, and we would have those kids that struggled because of the social piece of it," Befort said. 

He continued, "Some of the kids that struggled in the classroom excelled this way, and kids that excelled in the classroom struggled with this piece because they didn't have that social interaction with the kids."

Befort said most students did their assignments. Teachers reached out to those who were not getting work in, Befort said.

"I think they are all glad this is over, and hopefully we don't have to be in this in August," he said.

Teachers,  parents and students communicated through the school's learning platform, Seesaw, Befort said.

He said many parents with whom he visited said they struggled with at-home learning.

"I think there is a newfound understanding of what is included in education and what those parents have to deal with," Befort said.

"At the elementary, most of those students get their work done in class, so they don't have a lot to do when they go home," he said, "but here it was students needing their parents' help to get some of that work done. I think they got a little overwhelmed and realized what is actually done in the buildings."

Superintendent Corey Burton thanked the district's teachers and parents for all the work they put in during the continuous learning portion of the school year.

Board member Jared Schiel asked the principals what the district could do to make the process better if continuous learning would have to continue in the fall.

Befort said the staff had discussed streamlining the district's communication platforms so they are all on one linked system.

The state is working to establish competencies for each grade level, which would give teachers more guidance if they would have to go back to continuous learning, Burton said.

"At elementary, it relies on that parent help," Befort said. "If we don't get that parent assistance, it is really difficult. That was one of the conversations we had with staff when that all started.

"We know we have those students who struggle in the classroom so when they go home, you may miss out and may have that parent who may not understand or struggle themselves."

Donna Schmidt, Ellis High School/Junior High School principal, also said the school is looking at moving to one learning management system.

She said some students struggled to keep track of multiple logins and passwords.

"Just like the elementary has done, we've learned from it," she said. "Sometimes it has been easy learning from it. There has definitely been some growing pains.

"We had to make some shifts midstream after the first week after we realized what we thought would take students a half an hour was really taking them a lot longer."

Some students did well when they were given a week's worth of work,  and other students needed their work divided per day.

"We are learning a lot about how our students learn and what skills they have," Schmidt said, "and what skills they don't have. And I am sure we will have some conversations in the fall on how we can help them develop those skills.

"That time management piece is really something that everybody needs to have in their lives."

Students also tended to better comprehend instructions that were in bullet form as opposed to paragraph form, Schmidt said.

Board member Cindy Hertel asked if the district was planning to change its eligibility standards in light of continuous learning. Schmidt said the same students who were ineligible before continuous learning were ineligible after continuous learning.

Schmidt added, "I hope it helped us all realize how much we miss students being here in the building and how much they miss being here as well. There is so much more to school than the academic piece."