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Remote learning: How are Colorado teachers, students, and parents making it work?

Districts in Colorado taking different approaches
Posted at 7:46 AM, Apr 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-07 09:46:54-04

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On Tuesday, the largest school district in Colorado began teaching students remotely. Denver Public Schools is following most of the state’s other districts that began remote learning over the last few weeks.

Denver7 went 360 and spoke to teachers, students and parents to find out how they’ve managed logistically and what the experience has been like so far.

The Teachers’ Perspective

Teachers in Jeffco Public Schools were the first to launch remote learning. The district started the process almost immediately after schools closed on March 13th. The first step was making sure kids had the technology they would need to work at home.

“We made sure everyone got their iPads, their chargers — we prepared them for what was about to happen,” said fourth grade teacher Stephanie Hultine, recalling the last day that schools held in-person classes.

Jeffco Public Schools is “one to one” for technology, meaning all students have devices like they use in the classroom. But not every child is ready to use those devices to communicate from home.

“I got whole emails with nothing in the message line, and everything in the subject line saying, 'Please, help me, my words erased,'” said Hultine. “So, now I have to teach them how to write an email, because they can’t even ask me for help."

Learning how to communicate remotely has been one challenge. In different school districts around Colorado, students are expected to use a variety of different education websites to complete assignments and maintain contact with their teachers.

Some teachers feel these resources are expanding their opportunities and abilities to teach.

“We are learning so many tools that (have us asking), 'Why didn’t we use this before?'” said seventh grade language arts teacher Niki Brock, who started a virtual book club for her students at Mesa Middle School in Castle Rock.

As for what teachers are expecting from students, many say they are still figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

“Flexibility is 100 percent key and absolutely necessary,” said Kasie Krug, a teacher at Warren Tech in Jeffco Public Schools. “The last thing we want is for these kids to feel stressed out in an already stressful time."

The Students’ Perspective

Remote learning isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, and students in elementary, middle, and high school are finding that some learning styles adjust better to working at home.

“I do like having teachers explaining stuff in class, but having it (at home), I can get it done at my own pace, if people need to do it slower they can,” said Jagger Hooper, a sophomore at Chaparral High School in Parker.

But some say without being physically in the classroom, it’s harder to communicate, they don’t get the collaboration with other classmates, and it just doesn’t feel like they’re in class when they’re at home.

“The main thing I’ve missed is going to school and having that separate place where my mind just shifts and differentiates away from home,” said True Searle, a senior at Castle View High School in Castle Rock.

For the youngest kids, the workload varies by grade, school and district. Many aren’t sure what to think about this strange time.

“It doesn’t feel like I’m in school, it feels like I’m in another place, but it does feel like I’m doing school work,” said Blake Still, a second grader in Jeffco Public Schools.

The Parents’ Perspective

The ability for parents to oversee and assist with remote learning depends largely on whether they are still working, and whether they are working from home or out in the community at essential jobs.

“I work in a factory making medical supplies so it’s essential, and it’s just difficult right now," said parent Yvonne Davies.

She said she still feels school is important for her kids, and they’ll do the best they can.

Even parents who don’t work are finding it difficult to help their children complete assignments.

“I had never used Google classroom, so I have to go through the tutorials before my son goes through them so I can answer any questions,” said Kristen Sattler, a parent in the Cherry Creek School District.

Kaitie Bland, a mother two children in the Poudre School District, said online learning isn’t ideal for children with special needs. Her son Jacob, a first-grader, is on the autism spectrum. His mom said she believes schools could make it easier by allowing alternatives to the teacher-provided lessons.

“I’ve got all kinds of workbooks and things to get them and keep them on track,” said Bland. “I think it would actually be easier to work with those materials, I’m just not trained in what they’re learning at school."

But many parents said their children's schools have been flexible and supportive.

“You have to figure out what’s going to work best for your household and reach out to the teachers if you need help,” said parent Rachel Still.

Sarah Adams, another parent, said they must offer grace to the schools, teachers and students because this is quite a big change from the classroom.

“And we need to give grace to ourselves too," she said.