USA TODAY US Edition

All-vir­tual stu­dents miss out in hy­brid class

Teach­ers may be un­able to pay equal at­ten­tion

- Maryjane Slaby In­di­anapo­lis Star USA TO­DAY NET­WORK Society · Bullying · Online Courses · Education · Special Education · e-Learning · Indianapolis Public Schools · Hamilton Southeastern Schools · Carmel Clay Schools

IN­DI­ANAPO­LIS – When Hamil­ton South­east­ern Schools went from all vir­tual in­struc­tion to a hy­brid sched­ule for stu­dents, Jes­sica Sav­age knew she had to keep her two sons at home.

Her sec­ond grader, who is in spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion classes, has mul­ti­ple health con­cerns, and she’s un­sure how COVID-19 could af­fect him. Plus, she said, vir­tual learn­ing was go­ing great.

“The boys were thriv­ing, and we had a pretty good han­dle on their sched­ule,” she said.

When K-4 stu­dents started the hy­brid sched­ule af­ter La­bor Day, that changed for her younger son. The new op­tion’s sched­ule change left lit­tle to no time for her son to in­ter­act with his teacher and class­mates via video.

“It’s been pretty rough for him,” Sav­age said. “The teach­ers are do­ing an amaz­ing job, but for kids like mine, the plan isn’t eq­ui­table.”

As school dis­tricts cre­ated their plans for re­turn­ing to school, a hy­brid sched­ule, which puts stu­dents into two groups who ro­tate at­tend­ing in-per­son and vir­tu­ally, emerged as a pop­u­lar choice.

Stu­dents are fur­ther split into two other groups – those who are in-per­son part-time and those who are al­ways vir­tual.

Par­ents and teach­ers no­tice the dif­fer­ences, prompt­ing ques­tions about eq­uity for kids who are in the vir­tual group – es­pe­cially in class­rooms where teach­ers are re­spon­si­ble for both in-per­son and fully vir­tual stu­dents.

“Ob­vi­ously, in-per­son is the best way to give a les­son, but it’s not the safest way. Hy­brid is not the best way to teach kids, but it’s safe. And vir­tual is the worst way to teach but the safest.” Suzy Lebo Pres­i­dent of the Avon Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers

Those ques­tions, be­ing asked at dis­tricts around the coun­try, came up at a Hamil­ton South­east­ern school board meet­ing last week.

“I worry that our 100% vir­tual kids are get­ting the short end of the stick, and I worry that our teach­ers are strained,” said Michelle Full­hart, the board pres­i­dent.

Par­ents and teach­ers of Hamil­ton South­east­ern stu­dents had mixed re­ac­tions to an all-vir­tual start to the year.

As of last Thurs­day, roughly 82% of K-4 stu­dents and 77% of stu­dents in grades 5-12 were on the hy­brid sched­ule.

Many par­ents were out­spo­ken about want­ing an in-per­son op­tion, but oth­ers said they felt they didn’t have a choice.

An­gela Gaf­ford As­mus, who has a sec­ond grader and fifth grader in Hamil­ton South­east­ern schools, said she’s glad the district used the hy­brid sched­ule to ease into in-per­son.

She said she felt like she didn’t have an op­tion but to choose the hy­brid over vir­tual.

“There is no way that can be eq­ui­table,” she said of the vir­tual sched­ule, adding that those with health con­cerns “are re­ally be­ing pun­ished by hav­ing to stay home.”

In the hy­brid sched­ule, stu­dents stay with the same teach­ers they had dur­ing the all-vir­tual phase, mean­ing

teach­ers have classes with stu­dents on the hy­brid sched­ule and those who are fully vir­tual.

Jan Combs, as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent of teach­ing and learn­ing, told the school board in Au­gust there were mul­ti­ple rea­sons for keep­ing classes to­gether re­gard­less of their learn­ing for­mat.

It al­lowed fam­i­lies to switch be­tween in-per­son and vir­tual in­stead of mak­ing a long-term com­mit­ment to one for­mat or the other, she said. She said vir­tual stu­dents would have the same class op­tions and teach­ers as their peers in­stead of learn­ing from a mostly self-guided on­line pro­gram with lim­ited op­tions. Combs said this saved the district from need­ing to hire ad­di­tional teach­ers.

At the elementary level, teach­ers meet with stu­dents at­tend­ing vir­tu­ally – whether they are fully vir­tual or the hy­brid sched­ule – in the morn­ing and in the af­ter­noon.

In be­tween, teach­ers work with in­per­son stu­dents while the vir­tual stu­dents learn from pre­re­corded lessons and at­tend en­rich­ment ses­sions with a li­brar­ian, spe­cial­ist or coun­selor via live video. Teach­ers can in­clude vir­tual stu­dents on in-the-class­room lessons for syn­chro­nous learn­ing.

Maxx Flavin, a par­ent of two elementary stu­dents in the district, said this sched­ule dras­ti­cally re­duced the time his chil­dren spend with their teach­ers, as well as the time they have to in­ter­act with class­mates. As he talked to more par­ents, he learned how dif­fer­ent vir­tual learn­ing is from class­room to class­room.

Flavin started the Hamil­ton South­east­ern vir­tual learn­ers coali­tion to try to make sure the district’s fam­i­lies have a qual­ity vir­tual learn­ing op­tion all school year.

Par­ents of elementary vir­tual learn­ers said the sched­ule re­duced live in­struc­tion for their stu­dents and lim­ited time for in­ter­ac­tion

In the district’s up­per grades, some lessons are recorded and some are syn­chro­nous.

Teach­ers said plan­ning for mul­ti­ple au­di­ences added to their work­load and re­vamped their les­son plans.

Abby Tay­lor, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the Hamil­ton South­east­ern Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion and a fourth grade teacher, said that af­ter plan­ning her lessons, she has to record mul­ti­ple lessons for each day.

Though teach­ers have got­ten faster at it, “that’s still 30 min­utes of time that you nor­mally wouldn’t spend on top of (les­son plan­ning),” she said. “It’s a lot for teach­ers to do.”

She said teach­ers are re­as­sured that it’s a tem­po­rary sched­ule.

“It’s not some­thing that is sus­tain­able for a long time,” Tay­lor said. “Teach­ers will not be able to do this for a very long time or for the fore­see­able fu­ture.”

Of­fer­ing a hy­brid sched­ule

Health of­fi­cials have largely rec­om­mended the hy­brid sched­ule for sec­ondary stu­dents as a way to de­crease the num­ber of stu­dents in build­ings and class­rooms, even when stu­dents still switch classes.

Hy­brid sched­ules are used less of­ten at the elementary level.

The sched­ule al­lows schools to of­fer in-per­son learn­ing while hav­ing more space to so­cial dis­tance and take health pre­cau­tions.

“Ob­vi­ously, in-per­son is the best way to give a les­son, but it’s not the safest way,” said Suzy Lebo, pres­i­dent of the Avon Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers. “Hy­brid is not the best way to teach kids, but it’s safe. And vir­tual is the worst way to teach but the safest.”

Teach­ers and stu­dents must bal­ance the chal­lenges of vir­tual learn­ing, such as tech­nol­ogy is­sues and stu­dent par­tic­i­pa­tion, with the in-per­son chal­lenges of so­cial dis­tanc­ing and wear­ing masks.

At Avon High School, stu­dents and teach­ers have had three dif­fer­ent sched­ules in the roughly six weeks since school started. They started the year with a fully in-per­son op­tion, then moved to all vir­tual, then to a hy­brid sched­ule, then back to fully in-per­son.

“We were just get­ting the hang of (a hy­brid sched­ule) af­ter do­ing it for a month,” Lebo said. She ex­pects the sched­ule to keep chang­ing in re­sponse to the up­com­ing flu sea­son.

Teach­ers for fully vir­tual stu­dents

One of the big­gest dif­fer­ences in how schools ap­ply the hy­brid sched­ule is who teaches vir­tual learn­ers.

At the elementary school level, many dis­tricts have a 100% in-per­son op­tion and an all-vir­tual op­tion, each with a set of ded­i­cated teach­ers.

Some dis­tricts have had to hire ad­di­tional teach­ers. At Carmel Clay Schools, the district hired 17 all-vir­tual po­si­tions, in­clud­ing 11 teach­ers, this year.

At West­field Wash­ing­ton Schools and In­di­anapo­lis Pub­lic Schools, the ques­tion of whether teach­ers will be re­spon­si­ble for vir­tual or syn­chro­nous learn­ing de­pends on how many par­ents want vir­tual ver­sus how many want an in-per­son op­tion.

For schools at the sec­ondary level, where stu­dents typ­i­cally switch classes, teach­ers have one sec­tion of all vir­tual stu­dents on their sched­ule or dis­tricts use out­sourced ed­u­ca­tion plat­forms for fully vir­tual stu­dents. In some cases, it’s a mix.

Par­ents said the out­sourced plat­forms lack op­tions and stu­dents have lim­ited to no in­ter­ac­tion with school staff and class­mates.

Pike High School in In­di­anapo­lis started a hy­brid sched­ule this month sim­i­lar to the one in Hamil­ton South­east­ern schools.

The­ater teacher Sarah Vilen­sky said it’s a strug­gle to plan lessons when “the ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple you are teach­ing are not in the class­room” but on a screen.

She said she’s con­cerned about mak­ing sure the stu­dents who are fully vir­tual have the same ex­pe­ri­ence as stu­dents who are in the class­room.

“It’s not an easy job,” she said. “And it’s been made harder.”

‘Make it sus­tain­able’

When the Hamil­ton South­east­ern school board ap­proved mov­ing elementary stu­dents to a fully in-per­son op­tion next month, par­ents of fully vir­tual learn­ers said they were hope­ful.

Sav­age hopes her son’s teacher will have more time to do lessons in small groups of vir­tual stu­dents in­stead of the daily check-ins to ex­plain as­sign­ments.

“Any­thing we can do to get closer to how it was,” she said. “Some­thing needs to change to make it sus­tain­able.”

At last week’s meet­ing, sev­eral school board mem­bers asked if it was time to re­think the op­tions for all vir­tual stu­dents and if it was pos­si­ble to con­sider vir­tual teach­ers for vir­tual stu­dents.

Su­per­in­ten­dent Allen Bourff stressed that there are ques­tions with that ap­proach, in­clud­ing staffing is­sues and what hap­pens to stu­dents who are quar­an­tin­ing or who want to switch from vir­tual to in-per­son.

He said ad­min­is­tra­tors planned to meet with the Hamil­ton South­east­ern Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion to talk about the hy­brid sched­ule and with the vir­tual learn­ers coali­tion.

Flavin said the coali­tion wants to find ways it can vol­un­teer and give more sup­port and re­sources to teach­ers so the district has a strong vir­tual pro­gram.

“It needs to work,” he said of all-on­line learn­ing. “The vir­tual stu­dents aren’t go­ing any­where, a lot of them can’t go back.”

 ?? ANNABELLE TOMETICH/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK ?? Pene­lope Martin, 6, a first grader in Fort My­ers, fills in a col­or­ing sheet Aug. 31.
ANNABELLE TOMETICH/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK Pene­lope Martin, 6, a first grader in Fort My­ers, fills in a col­or­ing sheet Aug. 31.
 ?? JENNA WAT­SON/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK ?? South­east­ern Elementary School in Fish­ers, Ind., has adopted a hy­brid class for­mat, though some stu­dents re­main all-vir­tual.
JENNA WAT­SON/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK South­east­ern Elementary School in Fish­ers, Ind., has adopted a hy­brid class for­mat, though some stu­dents re­main all-vir­tual.
 ?? KELLY WILKIN­SON/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK ?? Some stu­dents re­turn to school for hy­brid classes, while oth­ers re­main all-vir­tual at home.
KELLY WILKIN­SON/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK Some stu­dents re­turn to school for hy­brid classes, while oth­ers re­main all-vir­tual at home.
 ?? JENNA WAT­SON/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK ?? While teach­ers work with in-per­son stu­dents, the vir­tual stu­dents learn from pre­re­corded lessons and at­tend en­rich­ment ses­sions via live video.
JENNA WAT­SON/USA TO­DAY NET­WORK While teach­ers work with in-per­son stu­dents, the vir­tual stu­dents learn from pre­re­corded lessons and at­tend en­rich­ment ses­sions via live video.

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