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West Grand students, teachers persevere during shutdown

Christine Poyser
news@skyhinews.com
West Grand High School hasn't had students in the building since March, but most teachers and students seem to be adapting well to distance learning.
Sky-Hi News File photo

In a press conference Monday, Gov. Jared Polis announced that Colorado schools will not be returning to physical classrooms this school year. On Tuesday, West Grand School District Superintendent Darrin Peppard took to social media to convey the governor’s announcement to students and parents.

“West Grand schools will be continuing with online and packet learning through the end of this school year,” Peppard concluded.

West Grand schools implemented distance learning March 23, the week following the district’s spring break, and by all accounts, the district has handled the transition quite well.

“Our teachers responded,” West Grand High School Principal Elizabeth Bauer said. “They spent their spring break planning and preparing to make the move to online classes without much training.”

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On March 24 and 25, students visited the schools to retrieve personal items and pick up books and supplies. Students who needed one were also provided a Chromebook.

“Many of our students didn’t have computers at home,” West Grand K-8 principal Jack Daly said of making sure students had access to technology.

In addition to checking out more than 190 Chromebooks, the district has also assisted families with internet access.

“The bigger issue (we’ve had) has been internet,” Daly said. “In some cases, for students without internet access, we’ve handed out hot spots. We’ve also hooked up Visionary (broadband) to some homes. We’re down to only two or three families who don’t have internet access, but we’ve been making accommodations — printing and delivering materials to those houses every week.”

By the end of that first week, West Grand had swiveled entirely to online learning. Teachers have been delivering daily lessons using Google Classroom, assessing projects with Google Hangouts, and hosting weekly video chats for students to interact with each other.

Fourth grade teacher Alesha Birdsall has continued to read aloud to her class every day, recording passages that students can access as it’s convenient during their home school routine.

“Our main goal is to make sure kids are engaged, using their minds, and continuing to think,” Daly said. “We don’t want them to be overwhelmed, and also don’t want them in front of a screen eight hours a day.”

Out of sight, not out of mind

To keep students accountable for their work, completed projects are posted in Google Classroom. Many online assignments have “Submit” buttons students click to notify teachers when the assignment is complete.

Despite the large geographic footprint of West Grand’s district, distance learning hasn’t let students off the hook. In fact, Daly and K-8 Assistant Principal Nathan Tedjeske have been making house calls.

“For families who are struggling, and kids who are not participating at the level we would like to see, Mr. T. and I visit the house to check in with the student from the front porch,” Daly said.

Taking responsibility for their own learning has impacted high school students perhaps more than the other grades, reflected Bauer.

“Moving quickly to an online platform did not allow us much time to prepare the students,” she said. “However, students are resilient and have responded well.”

As with the younger grades, high school counselor Jennifer Hooks and athletic director Cori Kassib have reached out to connect with students who are falling behind in their school work.

“There are a wide range of challenges with this situation,” Bauer continued. “Some students are working, some are taking care of siblings and family members, and some are finding it difficult to have that intrinsic motivation to do their work without a teacher in front of them.”

The abrupt end to in-class teaching has taken a toll not just on students, but on teachers.

“Our teachers are going through withdrawal from their kids,” Daly said. “It’s a struggle for them emotionally, too. There’s a reason they chose to be teachers.”

Elementary special education teacher Marveen Terryberry expressed that struggle Tuesday following a district-wide meeting.

“There was not a dry eye on our Zoom meeting today when our superintendent officially announced that we would not be returning to in-person school for the rest of the year. We have all adapted to online learning, but I miss the hugs, the high fives, and smiles from my students. I miss March 12 and all of the days before that. I miss their misbehavior (kind of), I miss their voices, I miss their shuffling feet, I miss them dropping their pencils 100 times, I miss their individuality, I MISS THEM!!!” Terryberry said in a Facebook post.

In spite of the trials and tribulations, there have been moments of grace and strength exhibited by administrators, teachers, students, parents, and the West Grand community during the shutdown.

“One of the things that I am most proud of is how we as a school and community have shown resilience,” Bauer said. “Even though we have to be apart physically, now more than ever we are coming together as a school and community.”


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