Middle school

Students in Group B exit Davis County Middle School at the end of the school day last Friday. A and B groups will alternate attendance days as Davis County Schools continue using the hybrid model of instruction through October 30.

Davis County School administrators, with the support of the school board, announced Friday, Sept. 11, that Davis County Schools would continue with the hybrid model of learning through at least Oct. 30.

Administrators had originally planned to bring all students back to school full-time by mid-September after beginning the school year with the hybrid model, which allows only 50% of the students to attend each day for better social-distancing during the pandemic.

However, during a Zoom session with over 200 participants on Sept. 9, the public learned administrators were having second thoughts about bringing the full student body back for onsite instruction. Board members, too, were reporting public support for continuing with the hybrid model.

Board member Doug Dixon said, “It seems to me that our model has worked and our neighboring districts’ plans (for full onsite learning) have not worked. Why would we go to full onsite learning when our plan is working and others aren’t?

“I’ve had a lot of feedback from others who’ve echoed these sentiments,” he said.

Board member Joni Helton added, “I feel what we’ve been doing is working. Everyone is working hard and we’re being successful. You can social distance better with half the students at a time. In the elementary building, they are building community and kids are learning to respect others.”

Josh O’Dell said he’s not a fan of hybrid learning, but he has done a lot of research and “the overwhelming response from parents and teachers is they want to continue hybrid.

“Now other schools are switching to what we’ve been doing because onsite instruction was not working,” he said.

Sheryl Wright, who represents the Pulaski area, said she was hearing similar reactions from parents and teachers.

Board Chairman Rod Lynch mentioned that he has talked to K-12 teachers who say their students are relatively engaged and glad they’re back in school, and there are teachers who say they have gotten more accomplished in the classroom by working with smaller groups.

In defense of remaining in the hybrid format, Supt. Dan Maeder said six-foot social distancing makes a difference, and “we obviously don’t want kids and staff getting sick. If we lose staff, we could have to shut down completely — Twin Cedars had to do that.”

Not all parents wanted to continue with the hybrid model, however. Jen and Matt Cronin presented board members with an online petition signed by 121 community members calling for full onsite instruction.

“There is no replacement for in-person, full-time learning,” Matt Cronin told the board. “Data support this. Less than full-time instruction can cause decreased learning, anxiety, and lower graduation rates.”

Maeder assured the Cronins that “administrators, teachers, and board members also believe kids learn better at school, but six-foot social distancing makes a difference, and we obviously don’t want kids and staff getting sick. If we lose staff, we could have to shut down completely.”

This week’s hybrid schedule follows the pattern set forth at the beginning of the school year — A group attends on Monday and Tuesday and B group attends on Thursday and Friday. Wednesday is set aside for professional development.

Beginning next Monday, Sept. 21, and running through Oct. 30, A students will attend school on odd calendar days and B students will attend on even calendar days.

“The every-other-day model will provide some stability for folks for planning,” Maeder said. “We believe if kids are at home for shorter lengths of time, there will be less learning loss and retention will be better. This model will also make it easier for teachers to develop at-home learning plans.

“It’s difficult to plan for multiple days off while also planning for classroom instruction,” he said.

“By seeing the students every other day, we’ll also have a better handle on student learning as well as their health and well-being.”

Maeder said he believes social-distancing is the key to keeping students and staff healthy and he believes, therefore, the hybrid plan will lessen the impact of COVID on the school and community.

Maeder said students will be engaged in deeper, more in-depth learning and introduced to new concepts on the days when they are in school. During at-home learning, students will be practicing concepts, viewing preview films, and reading in preparation for the next day’s in-school instruction.

Teachers will be in contact through email with students during their at-home days and will be making themselves available before and after school for one-on-one consultations.

Maeder also said teachers are encouraged to reach out by recording virtual sessions for kids to watch on days when they are learning at home.

The technology is now available and every Davis County student has a device that will connect to the internet, Maeder said. Unfortunately, connectivity is still an issue for 10-15% of the students who are unable to establish a high enough connection speed to do everything over the internet that the district would like to do.

“We are working with CMTEL — and they are working with those families — to find a viable solution.

“We have also purchased several mobile hotspots through CARES funds to assist some families who would not normally have access to those dollars,” he said.

The technology also allows teachers to work with kids who are quarantining.

“An unintended consequence of the hybrid model is that in some cases students are progressing faster as teachers work with fewer kids at a time,” Maeder said. “We’re also realizing as a staff that we have to take advantage of every minute available for instruction, and we have to continue improving how we deliver instruction.”

Maeder again expressed his gratitude for the community in which he works. “Davis County gets it,” he said. “We have just great people that rally around each other when we need help. The amount of love and respect that we show for each other in Davis County is unparalleled. I’m just humbled every time I see this, and I see this regularly.

“It doesn’t matter who you are. We have our differences. But I’ve not felt hate — not felt that at all. I feel people questioning. We should do that, and do it in a respectful way.”