Middle schoolers continue remote learning but will attend every class every day

Starting Monday, Nov. 16, students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades will continue to learn online, as they have since March, but their schedules will change.  Starting on Monday, students will attend six, 40-minute sessions of live instruction each school day.

The new schedule will replace the current A-day/B-day schedule where students attend live (synchronous) instruction for half their classes every day and do asynchronous work independently in the other half.  That schedule has been in place since the school year started, but the end of the first marking period just over a week ago showed that many more middle school students are struggling in all subject areas and performing well below grade level expectations. 

High schoolers follow a similar alternating schedule mixing synchronous and asynchronous work each day.  There are no immediate plans to change that, but a high school committee is reviewing the schedule to determine if any changes will be needed moving forward.   

Administration, principals, and teachers have been working together to develop the new middle school schedule.  At the November 9th Board of Education meeting Executive Director of Instruction Ms. Fatme Faraj was joined by Lowrey Principal Rima Younes and teachers James Radcliffe and Stephanie Sorenson to share the details. 

Principal Younes explained that while the totals are still low, she has seen a more than three fold increase in the number of middle school students failing at least one class at the end of the first quarter this year compared to the same time last year.

Across the district, middle school principals and teachers are reporting that students are struggling with asynchronous time.  The adults indicate that there is a need for more structure and support to help middle school students to be successful in the remote school environment.     

Many middle school students have shared that they feel isolated when left to work independently, and they are not always comfortable reaching out to the teachers via email or waiting for online office hours. 

Starting Monday, students will have synchronous lessons from 8:15 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Monday through Friday.  

Seventh and eighth grade students will attend all six classes daily via Zoom sessions (synchronous) for 40 minutes each class.  Sixth graders may have fewer, longer classes in their block schedule. Teachers will conduct a short and focused mini-lesson and utilize breakout groups to further support students. Students will have a break every two hours, a 30-minute lunch period, and a 15-minute advisory period focused on social-emotional learning.   In addition, teachers will continue to support selected students after their Zoom sessions with small group learning labs.  

Changing the schedule also will help prepare students for when they do return to in-school learning, hopefully in January.  The current plan is to bring middle and high school students back in a blended model where they will attend shortened classes in the building on alternating days, with asynchronous work on the other days. (Returning to in-school learning is contingent on COVID numbers in the community improving.)

Superintendent Dr. Glenn Maleyko said the change shows the district’s commitment to students, following the suggestions from teachers and administrators who are working closely with those students.  School officials knew that starting with an all-new learning model in the fall would probably lead to adjustments.

“It’s a positive,” Dr. Maleyko told the board. “When we started in September this was something new for all of us.  So we wanted you to know we are revisiting it to make improvements.”