ROCKY VIEW— Rocky View Schools saw an increase in students choosing online learning after the return from the winter break.
At the Thursday (Jan. 7) Rocky View Schools Board of Trustees meeting, superintendent Greg Luterbach laid out plans for student learning both online and in-person for the remainder of the year.
Students returned to in-person classes on Jan. 11.
As of Nov. 23, Rocky View Schools had about 700 high school students online.
During the meeting, Luterbach acknowledged the move to online is working well for some families, but it is not working well for all.
“We understand that for some families this is a really tough week for them,” Luterbach said. “These are their young munchkins they are not able to be at home by themselves like maybe their high school student could be. It’s certainly impacting families' lives.”
Families were first asked to decide between in-person and online learning in August, Luterbach said.
Families were later given the option to switch from online to in-person or vice-versa. Luterbach indicated the school division is expecting to see about 950 high school students online for the remainder of the school year.
He noted Rocky View Schools is working to establish a sense of normalcy and constancy during COVID-19. He explained using online learning has aided in students' mental health as they work through the changing realities of the pandemic.
Upon returning to school about 3,000 youth, which accounts for 11 per cent of Rocky View Schools, opted for online learning.
He added before the increased health measures in November families would have had the opportunity to change their child’s education choice on Feb. 1.
However, on Nov. 30 Rocky View Schools contacted families with new timelines on choosing in-person or online learning for the winter semester. The change to the deadline was necessitated by the increased public health measures and the logistics of organizing students and staff.
Starting Monday (Jan. 11) Grades 1 to 8/9 families have the opportunity to choose what type of learning they prefer. High school students made their choice before the Christmas break.
“What is paramount for either one of these groups, whether high school or elementary or middle, is whatever their choice ... [It is] until the end of June,” Luterbach said. “We cannot flip back and forth.”
He noted the increase in online learning will impact in-person classrooms and the allocation of staff resources. Rocky View Schools have been working hard to reduce online classroom sizes and do not anticipate having more than 35 students in a virtual classroom.
“That’s good for kids, that’s good for teaching, that’s good for all of them,” Luterbach said.
When it was first announced all students would be moving online in November, there was an exception granted for those that had a demonstrated need to attend school in-person.
Luterbach explained between one to six students were at any one school in-person the first week of January due to these accommodations.
The decision to allow them to attend in-person was based on their learning needs and families were reaching out on a school level. Rocky View Schools also worked with transportation to get students to and from the building when necessary.
“If you have some students and some programming that their learning would be put at risk by not being there that was certainly an option,” Luterbach said. “Sometimes it created new opportunities to work on some goals that might have been really challenging to do when there are 800 other students in the building.”
The challenging aspect of the increased demand for online learning has been engagement with students, he said. Rocky View Schools has been working to be upfront since July to reflect that more work would be given to students and there would be a synchronizing of activities.
“We expect students to be fully engaged and doing homework, doing assignments and having evaluations online,” Luterbach said. “That has been happening.”
Overall virtual learning has gone very well, he said, adding most high school student families in Rocky View Schools have commented that they appreciate learning plans have become more rigorous for students and the hard work of teachers who are more available online in different formats.
Board Chair Fiona Gilbert noted feedback from families indicated most communities are grateful and appreciate having the positive opportunity to choose between online and in-person learning.
“It’s a hard choice for some to have to make, but at least there’s a choice,” Gilbert said. “I think that’s important and I’m happy we’ve been able to provide that."
Ward 3 Trustee Melyssa Bowen said this round of online classes were easier as students and their families were prepared based on past experience.
Bowen has a child in Kindergarten and said the online classes helped keep her son connected to his friends in the classroom. It has been a good experience for the family, she said, adding she appreciated the creative ways teachers have found to engage with students online.
“I definitely think that parents were more prepared, knew what was coming, knew that there were expectations that were a little bit different,” Bowen said.