A Seamless Shift to Online Learning

A Seamless Shift to Online Learning
Posted on 06/22/2020
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Reports of a new virus emerging in China, spreading through Europe, eventually hitting home in Wisconsin seemed like a distant bell that soon became a gong.  “It was St. Patrick’s Day and we were faced with closing schools until further notice. So, we ran a drive-up service for families to collect needed materials and our students were logged in and learning from home the very next day,” explains Dr. Marty Lexmond, Superintendent of the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District. “We started our planning in January.  It was amazing teamwork by our teachers, staff, students, and families.”

To start, the District surveyed families to ensure that everyone had the technology they needed for online learning.  “Our elementary students use iPads and our secondary students use Chromebooks,” said Director of Leadership and Learning, Deidre Roemer.  “Although some families have computer devices at home, many did not.  We made sure everyone that needed technology was able to get it.  We even provided hot spots for families that did not have internet.”

“Students already use several online platforms in the classroom.  Our goal was to enhance that.  Teachers created some amazing resources for our families and have quickly learned how to use Zoom and Google Apps to connect with our learners each day.  From there, kindergarten classes were conducting their morning meetings, orchestras were rehearsing, and learners in our schools were logging in for instruction throughout the day.”   

As many learners are helping at home or watching siblings, schools worked to be as flexible as possible during this challenging time. Teachers took attendance by sending daily “learning tasks” to students and they had until 11:59 p.m. each night to respond.  School counselors and staff members conducted check-ins with students that did not login.  “We provide a lot of support for our learners. We were striving to be fair, considerate and make adjustments as needed.  Everyone is sensitive to physical health and mental well-being.” explained Lexmond.

In May, schools introduced Passion Projects as a way to capture some of what learners had become interested in while “safe at home.”  The projects were seen as an important and creative way to finish out the historic school year.  “Our goal was for students to apply their knowledge and skills in a way that connects to their talents and interests,” said Roemer.

“Our learners have been creating things, learning skills, and deepening their own talents, interests and passions during this unusual time.  Many of them learned how to cook, do art projects, play a musical instrument, become a YouTuber, make their own clothes, write stories, grow a tomato plant, or invent new products.”

“The projects, along with enrichment and grade improvement opportunities, help our students develop their skills in problem-solving, communication, and collaboration -- competencies that are tied to our strategic plan goals,” adds Roemer.

When asked what the future holds, Lexmond is reflective. “By May, some districts had not even started working with their students.  We were connected from the start.  As we move forward, we’ll continue to respond to COVID-19.  We’re prepared to help students learn whether they’re  at home or at school.  And we’ll do everything we can to ensure our students stay on track and life ready when they graduate.  We face challenges together even if we’re apart.”