Monday, August 3, 2020

SUBSCRIPTIONS

Moab, UT

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Moab
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    Local parents can opt for one of three options for the upcoming school year: send their children for in-person instruction every day; keep their kids home for an online, independent curriculum; or enroll them in a hybrid program that would provide real-time, remote learning from Grand County teachers — like school telepresence.

    HMK Elementary, shown here, will host students and teachers for in-person schooling this year, with particular care taken to mitigate the potential spread of or exposure to COVID-19. Parents also will have the option of online learning. Photo by Carter Pape

    A “student re-entry” document released by the school district overviews how students will learn under these different models. At one end, parents are relieved of their daytime childcare duties so that they can work while their kids learn. At the other, parents act as learning coaches to monitor their children’s daily educational progress.

    The hybrid option, which Superintendent Taryn Kay recently extended to students in middle and high school, would entail virtual learning from home with a parent or guardian acting as adviser. Under this model, the parent would be present during class time and work “side-by-side with the classroom teacher to ensure that daily student progress is monitored and success is achieved through each course.”

    An exterior photo of HMK Elementary

    “This option is designed for parents who feel their student or students are not quite comfortable returning to an ‘as close to normal [as possible]’ operation but want them to stay connected to the regular school classroom, learning from [district] teachers whether at school or at home,” the guidance materials said.

    In Moab, as is the case across the country, parents have varied feelings over the prospect of sending kids back to be in a physical school environment. A survey of district parents showed that 55% wanted school every day “as normal” while 11% wanted all-remote learning, 31% said they wanted a hybrid, and 30% wanted partial days.

    The flexible response attempts to satisfy the needs and desires of parents on each part of that spectrum. Although that means many students and teachers will return to the physical classroom in the face of the potential health risks that poses, the district has a plan in place to ensure re-entry to the classroom is as safe as they can make it and that teachers have ample time to prepare for the novel year ahead of them.

    The flexible response also means that teachers will be the ones flexing. High school and middle school students enrolling in fully online classes will receive their curricula through Edgenuity or SEATS, both commercial platforms that provide personalized instruction adherent to the Utah curriculum. Elementary school students, on the other hand, will receive their online learning from HMK Elementary teachers.

    “The demand for time of teachers and all staff has increased during this pandemic,” said Jill Tatton, principal of HMK. “It isn’t just the teaching, but all of the extras that staff are addressing. The extra cleaning, the additional signs placed everywhere to guide students and staff, the changing of schedules not to overlap any grades or classes as they move through the building.”

    Tatton added that “shuffling almost 800 students each day at HMK” was a huge task, and changing duties and schedules would ask a lot of teachers in terms of the training it will require, which she said most teachers are already doing now during their time off.

    How teachers will be allocated between online and in-person teaching remains to be seen. Parents have until Aug. 7 to notify the district of which option they will choose for their children. They won’t necessarily be locked into that option for the whole school year; parents and children can revisit their choice at the end of each trimester.

    As for why the district has reintroduced the option for parents to send their children back to class, Kay said that a major reason was for the sake of child and family welfare.

    “Kids who were and can be successful in an online learning environment exclusively are few in number, both because of their developmental age — that’s why college kids are the age they are — and because most kids don’t have parents at home in the middle of the day to manage their learning,” Kay said.

    Besides educational attainment, Kay said there are plenty of local families who rely on schools to satisfy their children’s daily nutritional needs.

    “I think that when schools are open, kids from families that struggle with poverty are better cared for food-wise, nutrition-wise, because we can feed them two meals a day at no cost to their families, so it allows their families to spend their money on things besides food,” Kay said.

    And besides nutrition and education, there are also matters of the health of a child’s home environment that she said must be considered.

    “We do have, unfortunately, families who really struggle with abuse issues, so I worry about kids being in those environments more than they are when school is in session,” Kay said.

    This is a sentiment shared among teachers, as well. Mel Dolphin is a special education teacher at HMK and spends her time with students that, as the title suggests, have special needs that may make their home life more difficult, and school can be a haven for them.

    “Those kids need to go back to school,” Dolphin said. “It is so important for kids in our community to not only have education, but to have a place where they can feel safe, and for some get a hot meal. There’s no telling what kids are going through at home.”

    Times-Independent reporter Julia Crane contributed to this story.

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