Holmes County schools much more prepared for online learning

Holmes County schools much more prepared for online learning

The chore of having students learn online last year was chaotic and demanding for teachers. Having had more time to plan and prepare, both East and West Holmes schools will have a much better grasp on online demands as the new school year begins.


Last year area schools were forced to create makeshift online classes for students as the onset of COVID-19 mandates created the need for Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to shut down schools across the state.

Online classes for upper grades and packets of study provisions for lower grades were sent home for students to work on, with the idea parents would become teachers in lieu of the classroom setting.

Those final three months of the school year were harrowing, but they did set the table for area school districts to prepare from the optional ability for students who want to learn from the safe confines of their home to do so online again this year.

However, there will be two major differences this year compared to last: First, not all students will be forced to learn from home this fall, and second, with those final months last year, district staff members had a chance to gain some insight into what worked and what didn’t work online.

East Holmes schools have five different intervention tutors who will facilitate the online teaching for each of the district’s schools. With less than 30 students thus far opting to go online, it won’t be a major burden, according to EH superintendent Erik Beun.

“We believe we are prepared to offer students everything they need online,” Beun said. “At the end of last year, we had to learn to be very flexible and nimble, and we learned on the fly. We know what potentially exists out there with online learning far better than we did last year.”

Beun said both the online classes and the packets will be available, and should the unfortunate issue arise of closing schools like last year, he said the district is ready.

The online learning classes won’t be with a live instructor; it will be software each student will work through. However, the staff members will be available for students to ask questions and help facilitate the process.

The tutors will have multiple roles, but they will be the point person for online students and will be in contact with teaching staff members.

Beun said one of the unknowns is if and how far behind the learning curve students are following all of the learning opportunities that were absent last year. He said one of the areas of focus from an academic perspective is to turn much of the early attention to math and English.

“We need our teachers to figure out where are their students’ strengths and weaknesses and what gaps are there they need to fill,” Beun said. “For the first nine weeks in our k-8 population, we will maintain a big focus on reading and math. We believe that will give our teachers the best opportunity to assess the kids and figure out what they need to learn and grow. They missed time, and filling that gap isn’t going to happen overnight.”

New West Holmes School District superintendent John Thomas said they too are much more focused and prepared to tackle online learning for those who choose that route.

In a letter to the families of West Holmes School District with children in the home, the board said they believe the traditional face-to-face format is the most effective learning experience for students. However, the district also will provide online schooling for families with trepidations about returning to the regular school setting.

“If a parent isn’t comfortable sending their child to school, we are providing an online option with a number of teachers who are experienced and ready to take on that role,” Thomas said.

As the district moves ahead with online learning for those who opt to go that route, Thomas said there will be one huge difference. He said last year everything was thrown at the district, and it was chaos as the staff tried to deal with the problem with no planning. He said they have been able to better prepare for all contingencies this year, with guidance in place and a direction to follow that has been laid out.

A big part of that is the online teachers, who will assume a key role.

“At the end of last year, teachers felt like they were on-call 24/7,” Thomas said. “There was no relief. It was a terrible situation, and teachers felt overwhelmed because there was no true separation between school and their home life.”

The online teachers will have a guideline spelled out that will allow them to teach and direct students who are taking the online e-learning approach, which has been available for years for students grade 6-12.

In that system, full courses are given, and tests and homework are assigned through the software. The time line will adjust to each students’ abilities, but the staff will now have a better sense of keeping students on task, unlike last spring when it was so difficult because it was all so new.

“It’s not a free pass,” Thomas said of the online work. “They will be required to stay focused and turn in work in a timely fashion.”

Thomas said for the students in kindergarten through fifth grade, the online learning will be doing assignments on a daily basis and not simply when the students feel like it.

“We now have a structure in place that will allow our teachers to contact students and their parents if they fall behind,” Thomas said. “We have a curriculum, and it is consistent. It is the same structure as going to school. We can all see that structure, whether it is the teachers, parents or students. Kids are going to realize very early on that it is going to be very different than last spring because we have teachers in place who will watch and monitor every student in the program and make sure kids are doing their work daily. It’s a different structure that will help our teachers feel like they aren’t on-call 24-7.”

In both districts students doing online work will not be permitted to come in and out of the online learning during a semester.

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