Some of the challenges of the combination of learning remotely and in classrooms, underway in the Wilkes County Schools since Sept. 8, were raised during the Wilkes Board of Education meeting Monday night.
Dr. Donna Cotton, director of instruction for the Wilkes schools, reviewed expectations of teachers and students under this learning plan (Plan B), which the school system has used since Sept. 8.
The majority of Wilkes students are engaged in Plan B, which means alternating between learning in classrooms and remotely at home each school day. About 25% of the students opted to work remotely each day for the first nine weeks.
Cotton said attendance expectations are the same for students each day. If teachers don’t hear from a student for three days, someone from the school system will go check on the child.
School board member Sharron Huffman asked Cotton how a teacher knows whether to mark a student present or absent on a day the student works remotely at home if the teacher has no online or other communication with the student that day.
Cotton said that on days with no communication between a teacher and a student, “there probably is an assignment for the student to do” and the teacher will know to mark the student present on that day if this work is completed.
Huffman added, ‘Some teachers are collecting work (done during remote learning) like every two weeks. How do they keep up with it (attendance) then?”
Cotton responded, “I think that would be very difficult” but teachers can do this based on knowing when different assignments were due during periods as long as two weeks. “But I think it would be very hard for teachers to do that”
She said this might be something that should be discussed with principals.
School board member Joan Caudill she has heard complaints about differences in the amount of contact between teachers and students engaged in remote learning.
Caudill said cited the remote learning experiences of two children in the same local family. She said one child has contact three times a day with his/her teacher, while the other child only has this once a week.
“I think there’s quite a variance going on,” said Caudill.
Cotton said, “We can work on that. I appreciate hearing those comments.” She said that type of input helps her communicate more effectively with principals, who in turn work with teachers.
School board member Hardin Kennedy asked Cotton to confirm that parents should first contact officials at the schools their student attend if they have concerns about aspects of remote learning or other recent changes.
“It takes everybody to make this new thing work out,” said Kennedy.
Cotton responded, “We are still definitely riding that bike with training wheels. We are figuring it out. We have not made it perfect yet and if somebody has I would sure like to talk to them.”
Wilkes Board of Education Chairman Rudy Holbrook then recognized Clint Cheek, father of a 5-year-old at C.B. Eller Elementary and two younger children, to speak during the public comments portion of the meeting.
Cheek said his concerns were related to the points raised by Caudill and Huffman.
Cheek said the stress of trying to learn remotely at home alternating with the stress of COVID-19 precautions at school is getting worse each day for his oldest son and his wife, who is a stay-at-home wife.
He said young children have trouble grasping new restrictions in the schools and his son feels like he has done something wrong. Cheek said it has gotten to the point where the emotional trauma has made his son notx want go back to school.
He said one of his friends has a young daughter who is experiencing the same thing.
However, he said, learning remotely on a computer is especially challenging for young children.
“Every day when I come home from work, it seems like the stress load just gets more and more stress,” said Cheek, who works from 75 to 90 hours a week driving a tractor-trailer loaded with logs.
He said this experience in the pandemic could result in a learning gap with long-term consequences.
Cheek asked the school board and other Wilkes school officials what they are going to do about this difficult situation for families with young children.