As McHenry County schools shift to online classes, what will learning from home look like?

Schools shift to online classes amid coronavirus concerns

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After announcing school closures in an effort to stem the spread of the new coronavirus, many McHenry County schools are shifting to online learning.

High school, middle school and elementary school students in many districts, including Woodstock School District 200, Harvard School District 50 and Huntley School District 158, will be given Chromebooks for these courses over the next few weeks.

E-learning is new for many schools, and what it will look for each school level and student will be different.

The e-learning process will be asynchronous, meaning students and teachers will interact in different places at different times. School districts have sent letters to families and students informing them how attendance will be taken and how assignments will be given.

Teachers will be available throughout the day, and they will provide instructions on Google Classroom and other platforms. Methods of teaching and the nature of assignments is up to individual teachers, according to local school districts.

“There’ll be video lessons [that] some teachers might choose to do. We have the ability to do livestreams or they can do pre-recorded lessons,” District 50 communications coordinator Guy Clark said. “Google Classroom is a really robust platform for interaction.”

Attendance methods include completing attendance questions by a particular time or by completing assignments.

For families without access to the internet, hot spots will be provided upon request. Students in District 50 have been able to check out hot spots after a survey in February asked families about their access to the internet.

“Now with this implementation of e-learning for next week, we’ve been getting a few more calls [regarding hot spots],” Clark said. “So that’s what we’re working on now, just making sure that everyone gets access and has a hot spot.”

For District 158 students, e-learning is not entirely new. With the No. 1 nationally ranked blended-learning program, District 158 high schools require at least one blended program.

“So much of the work that we’ve done over the past several years with our blended-learning program, offering a couple of online classes already at the high school with our competency-based education pilot program, we were already very interested in different learning modalities,” said Dan Armstrong, District 158 director of communications.

For those in preschool through fifth grade, links will be sent out to families with daily assignments, including physical education; music; art; and science, technology, engineering and math.

“Kindergartners may not actually be using the Chromebook,” Clark said. “It may just give a way for the teacher to communicate activities. It might just be like read a book or do an activity.”

However, e-learning at the elementary level may be challenging, Armstrong said. Students who might need to attend day care or go to work with their parents will have flexibility in completing assignments.

Armstrong said the school is looking at this situation through the lens of equity.

“We can’t assume that every student has that level of activity or support,” he said. “So these lessons have been designed to be accessible and workable for all students [to] be able to do it online, and some may need accommodations.

“To access the materials, we instructed our teachers [that they] will be responsible for dealing with and reaching out to those families that may be experiencing some kind of barrier to access to accommodate them as needed.”

Students and families who may find barriers with e-learning are those with special needs and disabilities, for example.

Those with vision, hearing and speech impairments who may not be able to complete the e-learning will need to make up the work with alternate curricula, Armstrong said.

“There will be flexibility in either making this up after the e-learning period or working with those families to best meet their needs,” he said. “But again, the activities are going to be encouraged to suggest activities as connected to therapy goals.”

Although school districts are expecting this process to be successful, e-learning may prove to be challenging.

“It’s a difficult situation for families,” said Kevin Lyons, District 200 communications director. “It’s the global pandemic, and we’re trying to respond as responsibly as we can. We hope to reopen schools as soon as it’s safe to do so.”

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