Lowell Schools Shift to Online and At-Home Learning

Today, Governor Gretchen Whitmer cancelled all in-person classes at public and private schools in Michigan for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. The move, which was not wholly unexpected and is a result of the spread of COVID-19 across the state, directs local school districts to move to alternative instruction methods.

When it comes to days of instruction, Executive Order 2020-35 exempts schools from 13 days of instruction as a result of the previous executive order suspending classes. That number is in addition to the six days already provided to schools for the purposes of snow days and other events beyond their control. Schools can also count up to 5 days used for the purposes of preparing alternative modes of instruction.

“It is a huge change,” says Greg Pratt, superintendent of Lowell Area Schools. “It’s a paradigm shift.”

While challenging, Pratt says teachers and staff will be working diligently in the days to come to create learning plans that can be adapted for diverse learners. “We’ll try to meet the needs of parents and students where they are,” he says.

That’s a sentiment echoed by Scott Czarnopys, principal of St. Patrick School, who says creating a flexible curriculum and providing parent support are priorities.

Spring break will occur next week as scheduled for students enrolled in public and private schools in Lowell. After that, classes will resume using an alternative curriculum that may include online elements or, for those without internet access at home, instructional packets.

Lowell Area Schools: Meeting the Needs of Diverse Students

Pratt knows parents have many questions and concerns about how their children’s education will continue in the weeks to come. While many of the details still need to be worked out, his overriding message to families right now is this: “We’re here to help.”

All parents in the district have or should be receiving a survey to complete about their access to technology and their comfort using it for instructional purposes. Pratt says it’s important for parents to complete that survey so the district can tailor the curriculum appropriately. “The real issue is that we don’t know what parents have at home to work with,” he says. The survey can also be accessed at this link, and paper copies will be available to complete at lunch distribution sites.

Although plans aren’t finalized yet, students without access to internet or computers may be provided packets of material to complete at home. Pratt envisions those packets might be distributed alongside the school lunch program, which currently serves approximately 600 students.

As for students with IEPs or specialized learning needs, Pratt says parents will be contacted by staff. “They can expect us to reach out to them, and we’ll work with them directly,” he explains.

For seniors, those who were on pace to graduate will graduate, according to Pratt. Likewise, all students who were passing prior to the shutdown should advance to the next grade level. Those who were not on pace prior to the shutdown will be contacted by the school to develop a plan to get them on track. Pratt hopes to have some sort of graduation celebration or ceremony for seniors in the summer, although that is dependent on the status of the COVD-19 outbreak at that time.

Pratt says many parents are also wondering about dropping off textbooks and cleaning out lockers. With the current “stay-at-home” mandate from the government, it’s not possible for students to access the school buildings right now. However, when restrictions loosen, the district will communicate with parents when and how they can retrieve anything left at school or return school books they may have at home.

As more information becomes available, Lowell Area Schools will provide updates on its COVID-19 page.

St. Patrick School: Learning at Home

At St. Patrick School, students have spent the last three weeks learning from home. Waking up on March 13 to news that Governor Whitmer was closing schools, Czarnopys asked teachers to still report to work that day to discuss how to move forward.

“We devised a plan for remote learning that included the pick-up and drop off of learning materials and virtual learning – depending on grade level – that runs on a week-by-week basis until the crisis is over,” he explains.

Teachers spent the weekend and following Monday preparing lessons and on Tuesday, March 17, parents arrived at school to pick-up packets. Students in the 4th-8th grades were sent home Chromebooks, and the school has utilized a number of resources such as the Class Dojo app, Google Classroom and Zoom for teacher and student interactions.

While the school has provided weekly packet pick-ups with written work as well, Czarnopys says staff is looking to move as much of its curriculum to digital platforms as possible given the current stay-at-home order.

As a private school, St. Patrick School isn’t bound by the state minimum day requirements and instead adheres to the guidelines of the Michigan Association of Non-public Schools. The Diocese of Grand Rapids previously announced that all remote learning provided by its schools will count as days of instruction.

While the past few weeks have been challenging for educators everywhere, Czarnopys is inspired by the resilience of the local community in rising to that challenge. “I am always proud and in awe of our teachers’ ability to jump on board with creative solutions,” he says. “Everyone here works to ensure our community continues to thrive.”

As Lowell enters this uncharted territory, educators say they remain committed to continue teaching through the storm and ensure students have the support and tools needed to be successful no matter what may come next.

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