As Kentucky students face their third week of school closures amid the coronavirus outbreak, educators across the state are taking stock of COVID-19’s influence on teaching and learning.
On Monday, while leading a Facebook Live discussion organized by the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, the group’s leader remarked on Kentucky school districts’ unprecedented use of nontraditional instruction days. The days – normally used for inclement weather and not pandemics – hinge on online assignments or worksheets sent home to students. But as the days have stretched on, teachers have gotten increasingly creative to keep students engaged.
“We’ve never had to use NTI for something like this, where all of our educators (and) our students – everybody’s off-site. It’s an extended period of time, and we really don’t know where it will end,” said Brigitte Blom Ramsey, the Prichard Committee’s executive director.
The Prichard Committee has been hosting online discussions every Monday and Thursday to explore the impact of the virus on education in Kentucky. The events are at 3 p.m. CDT and are open to the public.
Echoing a recommendation from Gov. Andy Beshear, Interim Education Commissioner Kevin Brown has asked schools to extend their closures until at least April 20. That said, Brown has also advised superintendents to prepare for school closures to extend into May, although no decisions have been made.
In the meantime, Kentucky’s students will continue distance learning through their school district’s nontraditional instruction programs, which many educators scrambled to assemble earlier this month.
“I think the biggest challenge has been that many districts jumped into this and really had to pause,” said Jana Beth Francis, an assistant superintendent with Daviess County Schools. “What we’re trying to figure out is how do we support our teachers so they, in turn, can support students and families.”
Francis said her district has battled a flood of questions about COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, with strong, centralized messaging about maintaining the education experience for students.
“Even though it’s not ideal, if we don’t keep moving the needle forward, even just the slightest bit, our students will fall behind,” Francis said.
Ahead of a pivot to nontraditional instruction April 6, Jefferson County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Felicia C. Smith said the district is taking time to learn how “to do our best to keep learning going and moving forward,” she said.
Kentucky’s Department of Education is asking teachers in many cases to hold back on covering too much new content without the full support they could offer students in a classroom setting. Smith added the district is proceeding with KDE’s guidance in mind.
“While there will be different ways of staying in touch with students on a weekly basis, it’s just not the same as having, you know, access to that teacher every day,” Smith said. As a result, educators in the district have been discussing ways to balance reviewing content while still pushing students to grow academically, Smith said.
The switch to nontraditional instruction has been smoother in Hopkins County, said writing teacher Garris Stroud. Unlike many others across Kentucky, Stroud said his district has had an NTI program in place for several years now.
Increasingly, teachers have grown accustomed to using Google Classroom, streaming lessons on YouTube and videoconferencing with students through Zoom, he said.
Recent weeks with his students have been “capitalized by innovation (and) really just figuring out how to make this thing work, and how to make it sustainable moving forward,” Stroud said.