WH schools prove flexible as online students come back early

WH schools prove flexible as online students come back early
Dave Mast

West Holmes Local Schools had planned on keeping all students who opted for online classes at home for the first semester. However, because they felt it benefited families and students best, the district is allowing online students to return when they feel comfortable doing so.

                        

When the 2020-21 school year began, like many school districts, West Holmes Schools began offering the option for students and families who wished to learn via online methods to do so. One stipulation was those students who opted to do so could not return to the regular school setting until the second semester, should they like to come back to the school setting.

As the school year progressed, it became apparent some students had expressed a desire to return.

The topic of students returning now from the online schooling instead of being held to the second-semester return originally announced was discussed between the district principals and administrators, and one main theme continued to crop up during the discussion, that being the district needed to keep the best interests of the families and the students as a key priority.

With that in mind, the district decided to change course from its original plan and began allowing students back into the school setting several weeks into the school year, well before the first semester had ended.

“As an administrative team, we had a lengthy discussion once school started,” said Brian Baughman, West Holmes director of curriculum and federal programs. “Prior to school starting, we looked at it from and organizational standpoint, and we felt asking for that full-semester commitment was the best way to go in providing stability and making it easier for us organizationally. That was the initial thought, but having conversations within the district and with parents once we got into school, this was such a new concept we felt that flexibility was a must, given everything that is going on.”

In those discussions, the district realized that over the course of the first several weeks of school, it became apparent in talking with families of online students that there was a decent number of families who wanted to get their children back into the flow of everyday school.

“We could have taken a hardline stance and kept things as they were, but we all felt it was about making things work for the families,” Baughman said. “That was where we wanted to put the emphasis because our children are what is at the heart of what we do as a school district.”

Thus, despite making it a little tougher on administration and teachers, the district began allowing students to return when they felt comfortable in doing so.

Baughman said changes in the online option and curriculum may have surprised parents with the rigor that was involved with the online curriculum, and rather than risking students falling behind academically because they were struggling with online learning, where parents were becoming overwhelmed by the choice once they saw the rigor in the curriculum, the district opted to rescind the initial plan and welcome students back to school earlier.

Baughman said the district realized it would be additional work for staff members, but the cost in not allowing kids to come back early was too much of a risk.

“In the long run, it was what was best for the kids, the parents and the community,” Baughman said.

Baughman said around 350 students opted to move to online learning to begin the year, with about 130 students in kindergarten through fifth grade and approximately 220 students from sixth through 12th grade opting to learn online.

Thus far, between 20 and 30 students in the lower grades have chosen to return early, with the majority of those being at Millersburg Elementary, while around 15 students in the upper grades have opted to return.

That means more than 300 students will continue online, and Baughman said thus far the online curriculum has been a success.

“I think some of the parents and students had to see what the experience was like,” Baughman said. “Everyone’s situation is going to be a little different and unique, and what is one family’s best option might not be for another family. We were all in agreement that we needed to allow a little flexibility with how we approached the situation, and I think it has worked out for the best.”

With the online curriculum and the accompanying experience for families and the district being so new, Baughman said everyone needed to show some leniency to figure it all out. He noted that for the majority of families who chose the online learning curriculum, it has gone smoothly. He said in creating the online learning option, the district basically created two new schools in a matter of weeks with the k-5 and 6-12 curriculum.

The administration realized it would need some time for everyone to settle in.

"The kids have done well in figuring it all out, and the staff has been amazing to date," Baughman said.

Baughman went on to praise the district staff members, commending them for being flexible and understanding while continuing to offer the best education possible. He said as a district they all share a fundamental belief that the best learning experience possible is in the classroom at school, but he added they understand some families felt the online opportunity created a little more continuity for families in such uncertain times.

“We have tried to communicate with everyone the best we can, and as a whole, the district, staffs and parents have really done a pretty remarkable job through all of this,” Baughman said. “There have been a lot of challenges. There have been some things that we would do a little differently, but in this situation that we are in, there is no ideal answer and no perfect options. We are thrilled with the entire community coming together to work through this the best way we can. It’s been a challenge, but in the end it’s about our kids and doing what is best for them.”

For parents wishing to have their child go back to school, they simply need to contact their school principal, and the wheels will be set in motion for the student to return to the classroom setting.


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