Distance learning causes concern for students

Breckenridge Public School District has been empty of students since the coronavirus pandemic shut down schools and other public buildings across the country.

A long summer vacation breaks the rhythm of education that can lead to forgetting lessons and requires significant material review when students return in the fall. Since Minnesota schools closed mid-March and moved to distance learning, that fear of student learning regression has deepened.

During a Breckenridge School Board meeting held remotely on Wednesday, May 20, school board members questioned administration whether distance learning has been working for the students in Breckenridge, Minnesota. However, the results of the difficult transition to distance learning will remain unclear for some time.

“It certainly is a concern and that is why we are bringing in kids over the summer to close some of those gaps and kids get into the building for face-to-face because it is very different,” elementary Principal Corinna Erickson said. “Is it perfect? Is it where we hoped to be? No. But we are certainly looking at options to close that stretch out.”

Superintendent Diane Cordes explained how the state’s Department of Education (MDE) has been working on an introduction to a hybrid model of learning that would assist students and families where pure distance learning is more difficult.

“Everybody knows that we need to do everything we can to do more than distance learning. It doesn’t work for every family. If there was a hybrid model, we could bring some kids in small groups in (the school) so that we could have that face-to-face interaction. What we’ve heard as administrations, is that they (MDE) are pushing hybrid models for school districts to pilot his summer in the event that it’s what we have to do in fall,” Cordes said.

High school Principal Craig Peterson discussed an attendance report the school is doing for grades 7-12. The report shows that 27-30 percent of students are at one point during a week not turning their homework in. Students are marked as absent when they do not turn their homework in and the parents receive a robo-phone call regarding the matter. The automatic phone call has increased how many students are later turning in their work, Peterson said.

School board members were concerned that the percentage was high and a sign that distance learning is the cause. However, Peterson explained that before the coronavirus pandemic and distance closures, a rate of 25 percent of students not turning their homework in was typical.

Peterson stated that he is having 98-99 percent of students log in for distance learning.

“We as a school and as a district pretty much flipped our methods in 9-12 days and came up with a plan for a distance learning model. I think it’s very impressive what we have done,” Peterson said. “I’d say the one thing we can control is the relationship and how we teach the kids. The other stuff we can’t control, even going into next fall. We are going to be told what to do. But we can control our relationship with families and students and what we teach and we can control the methods of how we do it.”

Codes explained during the school board meeting that at the federal level, the CARES Act is bringing $140 million to Minnesota and $126 million of that is expected to go to elementary and middle schools.

The funds will be distributed to state schools similar to how Title 1 funds are distributed. While there has been no official dollars allotment by the MDE, Breckenridge school estimates they will be receiving approximately $72,000-$74,000.

“The intent of that money is to go directly towards students that we believe are being negatively impacted by this distance learning and may have deficits or regression in their learning. It can be used for things like summer school or enhancement for learning in the fall when we bring our students back. There is quite a bit of guidance for how that money can be spent, but that’s the general guidance,” Cordes said.

School districts are expected to receive allotments in early June 2020.

The next Breckenridge School Board meeting is scheduled for 7 a.m. on Tuesday, June 16.

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