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Schools to Continue Teaching Through Online Programs

Elizabeth Hofreuter, head of school at Wheeling Country Day School, conducts a sixth-grade language arts class online.

WHEELING — Virtual online learning is now a reality in Ohio County Schools and at the private Wheeling Country Day School.

Beginning Monday, students in grades 6-12 will log into their Schoology accounts and find lessons and assignments for the coming week. These lessons plans will come to them every Monday at 11:30 a.m. as they are at home during the current coronavirus crisis, and must be completed and submitted through Schoology by midnight the following Sunday.

This plan allows students and their parents to schedule the work according to their own at-home environment, according to JoJo Shay, innovation coordinator for Ohio County Schools. Teachers for each of the students will provide a cover sheet explaining the lessons for the week.

“We are trying to be organized so the students and their parents are not overwhelmed,” she said. “They can look at it and say, ‘I don’t have to submit this for this class on Monday, and this class on Tuesday. I can make my own schedule for the week to complete my assignments based on what is going on in my household.'”

Shay said the school district was fortunate its leadership had the foresight to lay the ground for online learning over the past two years. More than 2,000 Chromebooks were purchased so that students in grades 6-12 would each have their own to take home each night for lessons, and they have the ability through Schoology to communicate with their teacher.

For the younger students, however, learning is taking place in a different fashion. Students in grades 1-5 are not provided with Chromebooks, but do have access to them in their classroom and have learned to use them.

Ohio County Schools surveyed parents earlier this month, asking how many students had broadband internet. About 3,000 families responded, and about 4% indicated their children would not have access to a computer device or the internet.

All elementary students still will be receiving reading and math packets each week, either online or in paper form for pick-up.

“We will work in conjunction with whatever meal plan becomes available, and provide them at sites where meals are going out,” Shay said. “For those not able to pick up, we will determine a plan for them. We are trying to be all encompassing so can be all about learning during this difficult time.”

She said teachers do miss the students very much, and will be holding online office hours for students who need assistance.

“They are ready to support the students when necessary,” Shay said. “Rather than be overwhelmed, we want them to reach out.”

At Wheeling Country Day Schools, students are participating remotely each day in classroom learning.

Elizabeth Hofreuter, head of school, said on March 10 she and teachers held a meeting to discuss moving quickly to utilize remote learning options. The thought on that date was that some parents might want to keep students at home for their safety, and the school wanted to give those students the opportunity to participate in their classroom via Skype.

They learned only a few days later all schools in West Virginia were being closed, and the need for remote learning would be necessary for all students.

Each day older students meet for a short time with their teachers online, then work independently, she said. The younger students, meanwhile, will speak individually with their students once or twice each week.

“School as we know it has continued — for the most part — with very little difference in learning,” Hofreuter said. “If anything, we have found the silver lining in that remote learning has allowed us to truly differentiate and individualize learning for children.”

The school has established a web page for remote learning that goes in to the details.

“I have been teaching English since 1989. I can tell you my sixth-grade literature conversation today was as deep and meaningful as any I’ve had — even with seniors in high school,” Hofreuter said. “Learning does not have to stop. We see this challenge as an opportunity.”

Hofreuter said she is still hosting regular coffee with parents sessions to discuss school issues, only now she is doing them online. The most recent of these saw 35 parents participate online.

“The best thing we can do for ourselves is stay active,” she said. “The second best thing is to learn something new.”

At Wheeling Central Catholic High School, students also are continuing their education through online learning, according to Principal Becky Sancomb.

“There is no substitute for personal interaction,” she said. “Students are definitely missing extra-curricular activities, especially the seniors. But given the circumstances, the teachers are doing marvelous.”

Like Ohio County Schools, students at Central each receive a computer.

“A lot of tools the teachers have been using they have been using for a while. The are just using them more now,” Sancomb said.

Colleen Hunter-Weekly of Wheeling is a special education teacher in the Buckeye Local School District. She said it is part of her duty to reach out to her students at this time, and she has attempted to reach students and their parents online.

But she hasn’t heard back from many, which has her worried.

“It makes it difficult for us to keep track of students,” Hunter-Weekly said. “It’s important for parents to respond and reach out to us.”

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