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Returning to learn: District embeds school days for struggling learners

Tuesday, August 4, 2020
One thing is clear about Iowa’s educators: They are resourceful, industrious and creative. The state’s 327 districts are adjusting their Return-to-Learn plans as schools start opening their doors. Just how they do it depends on individual circumstances and considerations, of which there are many. We took a look at two districts in the state to see what their plans look like. Both are distinctly unique and yet all share the same goal and passion: Getting students educated.

Clinton Community School District has a student population of 3,300.

When staff at the Clinton Community School District began assembling their Return-to-Learn plans, their first and foremost thought was: How do we catch up struggling students – some of whom hadn’t been participating in classroom instruction for five months?

Even though the district was one of a handful of districts requiring remote education after the statewide spring shutdown, 18 percent of the student population didn’t participate. And even more ended the spring semester with incompletes.

Superintendent Gary Delacy sports his face shield.

Superintendent Gary Delacy sports his face shield.

“This is where we started with our Return to Learn,” said Clinton Superintendent Gary Delacy. “We needed to leverage our school calendar particularly for the students who didn’t engage in the spring and already had academic gaps.”

There are several parts to this approach, all of which revolve around embedding days into the school calendar to help struggling students. Throughout the school year, there are dedicated times to work with this student population to lessen the academic gap.

In fact, last week the district kicked off its work, in which it targeted 250 students for instruction.

“It’s an intensive one-week program in which students with incompletes will work to get passing grades in their courses,” Delacy said. 

The district also decided to move the start of school up one week – to Aug. 17.

“We felt the earlier, the better, because we need to know where all the students are at,” he said. 

The district also scheduled two days between the first and second quarters that will be dedicated to targeting students who need additional support and middle-and-high school students who are not passing classes. That will be repeated again in the spring incorporating three days.

Finally, the district will be offering summer school next year aimed at students who need additional support.

Students returned to the classrooms this week for Clinton's Jump Start program.

Students returned to the classrooms this week for Clinton's Jump Start program.

“Why do we expect students who are struggling to catch up and keep up at the same time?” Delacy said. “That’s just unrealistic. By embedding these days, we are acknowledging that that is a problem.”

Of course, working with struggling students is just one of myriad challenges facing the district as it prepares to go back to school.

Perhaps the most significant approach is that the district is launching an A/B schedule for students in sixth through 12th grades, in which half the students attend Monday, Wednesday and Friday in week one, and the other half attend Tuesday and Thursday. In week two, that’s reversed, ensuring all students are receiving in-person instruction at least 50 percent of the time. On days they are not in the classroom, they are receiving instruction online.

That approach ensures classrooms can comply with health guidelines such as keeping a minimum six-foot distance from one another.

On the elementary level, however, the district decided it was going to be fully in person.

Students returned to the classrooms this week for Clinton's Jump Start program.

Students returned to the classrooms this week for Clinton's Jump Start program.

“The preschool-through-fifth grade students are more dependent on their teachers,” Delacy said. “We also have a child-care shortage in Clinton County, so this takes the concern for child care off the table for our families.”

Elementary students are being clustered in groups of five, in which these students stay together during the entire school day and not intermingle with other clusters.

But in order to accommodate all elementary students – and maintain health guidelines – several classes are being transferred to the middle and high schools, which are operating under capacity because of the A/B schedule.

All students will be required to wear face shields that the district has purchased, as opposed to masks.

“We feel shields are better for students,” Delacy said. “The mask is hot and itches, which will prompt especially the young ones to bring their hands continually up to their faces. The shields will work better for students, and they are also much easier to clean.

“There also are educational reasons. In learning, young students need to see the teacher’s face.”

Only preschoolers will not be required to wear the shields.

With the older students having A/B scheduling, bus passenger loads will automatically have a third fewer students. Still, it requires some planning to ensure everyone’s safety. Equipment will be sprayed down after each run with a biostatic that kills COVID-19, with special attention to the seats and high-touch areas.

Here's a box full of face shields for K-2 students.

Here's a box full of face shields for K-2 students.

And, finally, lunch will be choreographed a bit differently at the three buildings, with elementary students remaining in their clusters and separated from others by at least six feet. The middle school will take what Delacy describes as a waterfall release, in which classes are sent to the cafeteria in intervals of five minutes to minimize any lines that would otherwise form. At the high school, the old gymnasium will be converted into a secondary lunchroom to ensure adequate spacing.

“Any time we can’t be assured of social distancing, we will use our classrooms for students to eat their lunches,” Delacy said.

As the doors reopen for classes, the superintendent said the staff feel confident in the plans the district has unrolled.

“I think the most important thing was that the teachers needed to see that we’ve been responsive,” he said. “We have kept them in the loop all along. We had 28 people working on our plan including several teachers, so they know they have their voices heard every step of the way.

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Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on September 16, 2021 at 11:38am.