With under a week until the 2020-21 school year begins, Madison Metropolitan School District staff answered questions about virtual learning from students and parents in a Wednesday afternoon Facebook Live broadcast.
Throughout the hour-long program, broadcast on Channel3000’s Facebook page, staff stressed the importance of social and emotional learning, mental health and creating a sense of “belonging” in the unfamiliar environment of virtual learning.
“If students don’t feel like they belong in an environment, they respond differently,” MMSD superintendent Carlton Jenkins said. “So we have to do an exceptional job of making sure we create those relationships.”
Jenkins and other administrators answered questions from a panel of six students — one from each of the four comprehensive high schools and two O’Keeffe Middle School students — as well as some submitted by parents and commenters on Facebook.
The school year begins Tuesday, Sept. 8, and will remain virtual-only through at least the first quarter amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. District leaders are hoping to improve upon the virtual learning experience from this spring, which was implemented with limited time to plan.
“Last spring will be totally different than what students are going to experience this year because we were in crisis mode,” Jenkins said.
Student questions focused on how the district would ensure rigor in classes, help students catch up if they missed learning in the spring and supports for mental health.
Chief of high schools Mike Hernandez said the district identified students who did not participate in virtual learning in the spring and connected with those students and families to create a personal connection and find out why — whether it was for a technical or some other reason.
To ensure classes are effective in the new format this fall, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning Lisa Kvistad said they would monitor attendance daily and use “a variety of assessments” to “see how students are progressing along the way.”
“We want to be sure that our students are accelerating through learning,” Kvistad said.
In response to a parent concern about how much screen time might be required for younger students, chief of elementary schools Carlettra Stanford said they would limit “large chunks” and keep large group meetings to 15 to 20 minutes at a time with independent or group work to fill the rest of the day.
Jay Affeldt, the executive director of student and staff support, said there will be “an explicit focus on social-emotional learning” throughout classes.
“We want all of you, every one of our students to feel truly safe and a sense of belonging,” he said. “We need a really wide range of intentional supports and we have those ready to go.”
Jenkins stressed the important role families and the community will play in student success this fall, understanding all the while that it will take time to adapt to a new system.
“I’m asking everyone to kind of be patient with your children and all students be patient with yourselves,” he said.
He ended the session on an optimistic note.
“Later on, history will talk about this particular group of students and how you rose above the challenges we face right now,” Jenkins said.
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