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East Grand’s focus on tech helps students adapt to distance learning

Granby Elementary School teachers share messages with their students during the school closures, which have been extended to the end of the school year.
Courtesy EGSD

A fifth grade student from Granby Elementary stood outside her garage, holding up a cell phone to record her smiling face.

“It’s a beautiful day out,” the student said to the camera. “Enjoy your backyards. Enjoy your front yards. Enjoy life. It’s just awesome. Animals that we haven’t seen in years are coming out! It’s amazing.”

In the background, taped on her garage was a sign with the letters S-G-N. The SGN stands for “Some Good News,” like the popular web series hosted by actor John Kransinki.

Sarahbeth Bankert had her fifth grade students film their own clips of “Some Good News” to share with their peers. She and many teachers at East Grand School District have used video as a way to complete assignments after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the school year.

East Grand has had to quickly adapt after closing to in person learning in March. And all districts are going to have to continue with distance learning after Gov. Jared Polis announced this week that all schools in the state would be closed through the rest of the school year.

Even though in person learning is over, school must go on. Tuesday’s East Grand Board of Education meeting started with each school highlighting how teachers have adapted to the virtual classroom at different grade levels.

For Bankert and many teachers, East Grand’s emphasis on technology has eased the transition. All high school and middle school students had a personal Chromebook issued by the school, an initiative rolled out in 2015, and elementary students were already getting technology training before the closures.

Bethany Good, a first grade teacher at Granby Elementary, said having a technology teacher at the elementary school has allowed her students to get familiar with Google Classroom. Her class learned how to create Google Slideshows a month before the closure.

Technology also means her class still gets to socialize. Last week, Good met with her entire first grade class online for the first time.

“Oh my gosh, those first graders were walking around with their Chromebooks showing us everything in their bedrooms and everything in their house,” she said. “They were so excited to see one another, just to talk to each other and just to see somebody.”

Older students at the elementary school, like Bankert’s fifth graders, were already familiar with Google Classroom. For middle school and high school students, technology was even less of a barrier.

“The technology piece has been seamless, which is wonderful,” said eighth grade English teacher Emily Lamont. “I have friends who are teaching all around the country … who are not in a district that values what we value in terms of our technology, and it’s a whole other story.”

While her eighth-graders have adapted to online schooling, many students miss seeing their friends. Lamont checks in with each class for 30 minutes a week and has them give a rating from 0-10 of how the last seven days went.

“The kids are pretty honest,” Lamont said. “Some kids are pretty excited to be at home, and some kids are just not. Things are going a bit more challenging for them at home.”

All East Grand schools have been attempting to connect with students who aren’t logging on. With emotional and social health being the top priority for the district during this time, teachers want to connect.

Teachers and administration expressed a desire to get those students the resources they might be lacking, whether that’s Wi-Fi or just someone to talk to. The district is trying to not let students slide during this strange time.

“We’ve been keeping quite close tabs on who we’re not hearing anything from at the middle school, which I think has been very valuable,” Lamont said. “We’re contacting them and making sure we’re getting in touch with those kids.”

With the school year disrupted, the Colorado High School Activities Association announced this week that springs sports were also canceled. The district has had to therefore accept that there would be little semblance of “normal,” whether a baseball game or a full classroom, to round out the spring.

“When (Polis) actually said it this morning, I just got a pit in my stomach,” Superintendent Frank Reeves said of the decision to close schools for the year. “I was just kind of holding on to that last vestige of hope that we could make something happen this year — not a great feeling with that.”

Reeves brought up his own concerns about how reopening school in August might look. Students in fifth and eighth grade especially, who haven’t sat down in a classroom since March, will have to transition to a brand new school with little preparation.

Reeves said the district will be talking with county health officials to see what, if any, in person contact might be permitted for the rest of the school year. One of the biggest questions is what graduation will look like for high school seniors and if any sort of live celebration might be possible.

Convening any group of students in the coming months depends on conversations with local health officials and what accommodations the district can pull off, Reeves said.


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