Gov. Gary Herbert announced Tuesday that all Utah public and charter schools will remain in a ‘soft closure’ for the remainder of the academic school year. The governor is calling this a ‘soft closure’ because students are still learning, just from a distance.
“It continues to be remarkable to see the ways that they [teachers] are innovating and reaching each student,” Todd Call, Digital Teaching and Learning Coordinator for Utah State Board of Ed said.
While school leaders are applauding the quick adjustments and changes, they acknowledge it hasn’t been simple.
As of last week, only about half of Cyprus High School teacher Susan Marshall’s students had logged online to do the work for her class. Luckily, she said, this week the number has gone up, but not without major effort across the school.
“I know other teachers in my building have sent handwritten letters home, and individual phone calls to parents and now we have support staff doing the same thing to try to connect every week, more and more,” she said.
Teachers miss the classroom as much as the students, Marshall said, and they are doing everything they can to get students engaged.
“I don’t have a 7:30 am to 3 pm job anymore. I have a, like, let me know how I can help you or the best time to do a google meet or the best time to take a phone call and I will make it work,” she said.
The struggles don’t stop with motivating and engaging kids, some parents are also having a tough time coping with the news that school will not resume in person this school year.
“I have been doing pretty good these last couple of weeks, but then, I don’t know, maybe it was the news that we are not going back to school yesterday that put me on edge,” Natalie Alofipo, who is working from home and has a daughter in kindergarten, said.
There have been moments when Alofipo admits she has wanted to give up.
“I am tired of fighting. She is done, she is tired. She doesn’t want to do this. Is it really worth it,” she said.
But, she knows it’s what is best for her daughter so she is finding ways to adjust. She has bought more at-home crafts and designated a section of the house just for school work.
Mother of four, two of whom are in school, Samea Nielson said she cried when she found out the school year would be finished at home.
“There have been days where we go until 9 o’clock at night until she finishes. But it does get finished because she knows she needs to,” she said talking about her older daughter.
While she knows this is a blessing to have so much time with her kids, Nielson said it’s difficult.
Then, comes the question of what will happen next school year. How will kids all be on the same page? The goal is to have all students move forward and not hold anyone back, Call said. We are all in this together, Call said, and there are plans in place for the summer months and next school year.
“The entire system is feeling this challenge and that’s why the State Board of Education is supporting this idea of return and recover. It is in that phase that, as we move forward into the new school year and we continue adapting and innovating, that we will begin using tools to asses these learning gaps and really establish a baseline for this next school year,” he said.
There will opportunities for small group learning and individual learning so all kids can end up on the same level. This summer, school leaders will begin accessing and addressing any potential learning gaps, Call said.