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New Strategy to Help High School Students Regain Ground

Wheeler County educators are trying a new strategy to boost the involvement and performance of high school students who are falling behind, and not just because of the health epidemic. In an effort to promote the academic success and health of all students, Wheeler County High School will be following a modified schedule beginning Monday, November 2, said Superintendent Suzanne Couey. It is hoped that the new plan will help students regain crucial ground before their dreams of graduating and future success are adversely impacted. “We are concerned about this semester’s implications as well as longterm repercussions for high school students, such as graduating on time, being prepared for college and maintaining a GPA that will get them there.”

Beginning in November, current face-to-face students will attend school in person on Tuesdays through Fridays, with Mondays being digital learning continued from page

students to work at home. “Mondays will absolutely not be a day off. Students will have assignments and will be expected to complete all work. Teachers will be available during their regular block for videoconferencing and support,” Couey emphasized.

Face-to-face students who have any missing assignments will still be required to attend school on Mondays to complete work. Teachers will notify high school Principal William Bell of students who need to attend on Monday, and students and parents will be notified the Friday before. Students will be counted absent if they do not attend and will not be able to participate in extracurricular activities if they do not meet requirements. Coaches will also hold study hall on Mondays for athletes who are failing, Couey said. “Remote learning students will be expected to come on campus for academic support on Mondays for the entire school day. The number of remote learning students is much smaller and will therefore allow us to provide proper social distancing at all times,” Couey noted. “Elementary and middle school remote learning students were allowed to return to school in October, so this applies only to high school students,” she said.

High school staff will call to schedule individual appointments with parents of remote learning students in the next few days to discuss each student’s progress, to explain plans in detail (including safety information related to COVID), and to develop a plan for students’ success. “We do understand that some students and families have medical issues, and we will address those issues on a case-by-case basis in conferences,” Couey said.

Parents of face-to-face students can contact the school if they have questions, and parents of remote learners can expect to be contacted soon to schedule conference times.

“We want to commend our teachers who continue to adapt to meet the needs of our students. We understand that parents and students are also affected by the frequent changes, and we appreciate and ask for continued patience and support as we navigate through our current pandemic crisis,” Couey said.

Out of 287 high school students, Wheeler has 57 remote learners who have chosen to learn at home. “They signed a contract and we let them know they would be working independently with software,” Couey said of those who opted to learn from home. She said, by and large, the performance of the remote learners has been disappointing. “They are just not spending the time on the software that they should be. We can track it.” The issue is not isolated to remote learners. Teachers have also reported that many quarantined students are not completing work from home and have fallen behind.

She allowed that students may not have been able to anticipate the rigors of independent study and the amount of discipline that would be demanded of them, “But we can’t just let things slide when we don’t know how much longer we will be in and out because of the pandemic. We have to have some structure if the kids are going to make progress. We are still responsible for their education. We need to do something . They are not doing it and their grades are reflecting this.”

High School students are assigned four courses per semester and students can earn a whole unit of credit in one semester. They can gain— or lose—a lot of ground in a relatively short period of time. The stipulation for students reentering on-campus settings from remote learning is that they must have completed at least 50% of the class. Out of 61 original remote learners, only about five or six students have met this requirement thus far.

A number of face-to-face students are also struggling and their grades are reflecting it. “They are just not doing their work. The apathy is depressing and it bothers me more than COVID,” Couey lamented. “They cannot use connectivity as an excuse because we have provided hot spots and the teachers have contacted them. Perhaps we have provided too many concessions, but I am trying to give everyone the benefit of the doubt because of the situation we are in.”

Couey said other school systems within the same RESA District have made modifications in their schedules due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some schools are holding on-campus classes two to three days a week. “The fact that we are going four days is more than some,” Couey said.

Despite administrators’ and teachers’ best efforts, elementary and middle school students are still lagging behind because of the health pandemic and instruction lost from last year. Like the high schools, remote learning in the elementary and middle schools has caused issues because students at home are not keeping up with their work. Students in grades K-8 were allowed to return to campus after the first nine weeks of school. “We are fighting it on all levels but it is more severe at the high school,” Couey said. Nothing is as good as face-to-face, and Couey agrees with other school administrators that it may be a couple of years before the schools can recover from the setbacks of 2020.

Because of COVID-19, the Wheeler County Schools have had to make adjustments. Just after classes began in August, the on campus instruction was paused because the week the schools reopened was also the week the virus surged in Wheeler County. Another interruption came early this month after many teachers and students were quarantined and students went to “October Digital Learning Days.” The pause provided seven days for students and teachers to complete their quarantine periods and to improve grades before report cards for the first nine weeks were sent out.

“We can’t just let things slide when we don’t know how much longer we will be in and out because of the pandemic. We have to have some structure if the kids are going to make progress. We are still responsible for their education. We need to do something. They are not doing it and their grades are reflecting this.”

— Wheeler County Superintendent of Schools Suzanne Couey

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