Schools take virtual plunge

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Schools take virtual plungeAs our community closes the first week of Distance Learning in the Sierra Sands Unified School District, stakeholders are trying to take stock of the insights to determine how to refine the process moving forward.

Even before the first class went live, students and parents were expressing frustration over challenges relating to technology, schedule and logistics. And finding immediate resolution in a system that is overtaxed at every level became just one more hurdle to overcome.

But as the week progressed, the majority seemed to persevere and settle into the new routine.

Not all reported success in the transition (see related story). Single-parent families, children of two working parents, large households, students with disabilities and those with limited resources were among those struggling to meet the intense demands in the new format.

However, many others reported vast improvements over last spring’s hastily-implemented plan.

For the “Distance Learning 2.0,” administrators had to shift multiple times according to changing guidance from the state — leaving teachers very little time to generate and post content according to those standards.

While those requirements yielded a more rigorous approach, including a fixed schedule and a 6- to 7-hour session for students, the routine and interaction were welcome changes for some teachers and students.

“Growing up I used to hear from the family elders that I should ‘give it the old college try,’” SSUSD Superintendent Dr. David Ostash wrote this morning in a message to his employees. “I would be offered this advice, unsolicited of course, when I knew I needed to do something — even though I lacked the resources or know-how or even the confidence to do it.”

Ostash said that he never bothered looking up the expression until now.

“But even as a boy, I knew the obvious context of the phrase. Intuitively, I knew exactly what my family leaders were imploring me to do: I was to try my best to do something even though I did not know how to do it yet.”

Incidentally, the phrase is from Babe Ruth’s 1928 “Book of Baseball,” and means “playing to the grandstand or making strenuous effort to field a ball that obviously cannot be handled.”

“I want you to know that it is fully recognized that implementing [Distance Learning] is an abrupt and massive shift from what we normally do to serve students. None of us possesses all the skills, experience and confidence that are needed to hit a grand slam today.

“Please do not be afraid to fail … we will learn together, experience failures and successes together, and support each other in this grand DL effort.”

Last Thursday, when the SSUSD Board of Education was meeting to approve some last-minute items that changed according to distance learning requirements, Trustee Bill Farris encouraged the thousands of teachers, staff, parents and students to remember that everyone is being asked to do the impossible right now.

“I want to acknowledge all the hard work and significant efforts that are happening in our community at every level … What we are doing is going to be difficult. There are, and were, no simple solutions. It’s going to be very hard.”

Just as teachers and other district staff have been working tirelessly to come up with a new method of education delivery, “I also know that our parents and households are struggling every day to figure out how in the world they are going to meet the education needs of their children,” said Farris.

“I think it’s important we try and understand what is being asked of everyone. Because of that, I believe we’ve also got to support each other with understanding and grace as we move forward. Because some things are going to work well, and some things are not.”

Outside of education, he said, people in virtually every aspect of our community and society are attempting to weather the same storm.

“I am hopeful we can recognize that and be as considerate and understanding of each other as we can. We are all bringing our best efforts. Hopefully, together, we can come up with the best possible solution for our kids.”

Pictured: Tracey Freese hands out ice cream prior to a Virtual Ice Cream Social, a partnership between the Las Flores PTO and Baskin-Robbins to welcome incoming students and their parents. — Photo by Laura Austin

Story First Published: 2020-08-21