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Just-in-Time Training, Proven Programs, and Expert Teaching Yields Distance Learning Success

Just-in-Time Training, Proven Programs, and Expert Teaching Yields Distance Learning Success

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to Dr. LaVonne McClain, director of student information and accountability in Halifax County Schools in North Carolina about the transition from brick to click due to COVID-19 school closures. In our conversation, Dr. McClain shared how the district made the transition, trained teachers, provided technology access, and continues to learn many powerful lessons that will carry it forward.

You began by issuing printable packets on March 17 following school closures at the end of the previous week. That bought you time to prepare for a full remote learning transition. How did teachers make that conscious pivot in their teaching and learning approaches?

In trying to get everyone acclimated to our new normal, we did a “PD [professional development] blitz.” On Monday, March 23, we started training teachers with Study Island, which is used at all grade spans. We did a refresher on how they could use it remotely. Next day, we did Exact Path, followed by Reading Eggs and, finally, Courseware for secondary schools. These sessions were done virtually, so the teachers could log in from home and had the opportunity to earn CEU [continuing education unit] credit for it. After a week of training, we came back with check-ins. If teachers needed help facilitating or building classes, they could receive assistance at that time. We also included a special session on Exact Path for our Exceptional Children’s’ team.

While teachers were participating in the PD sessions, I was on the back end setting up Clever so that it would have a seamless, single sign-on integration. So, in that two-week period, I had time to train teachers and provide them with time to prepare for online classes.

In addition to the training opportunities in preparation for remote learning, schools needed to creatively think through challenges to Internet and technology access. How did you approach solutions?

Students had the opportunity during that time to check out devices from their school if they were available. The district partnered with Roanoke Electric to create “hot lots” or “park and learn” opportunities at four of our campuses. We are in an Internet desert in a rural area, and sometimes, it is difficult to connect to a signal. The signals at the schools offer connectivity for users within a half-mile radius.

You and your teachers have surmounted some common challenges faced by many when making this transition to distance learning. What successes have you experienced?

One of our shining stars in the district is the Halifax County Early College High School. They utilized Edmentum Courseware entirely throughout the COVID crisis and never sent paper packets.

I also have to highlight the Halifax County Schools Empowerment Zone. This site offers an alternative setting for students that, for whatever reason, have fallen behind in their cohort. It affords them the opportunity to catch up through credit recovery and through new classes at an accelerated speed. We were able to graduate 12 of those seniors this year because they had access to their courses via Edmentum Courseware.

What lessons learned and opportunities for growth did you pick up as a part of this work?

Teachers have a new appreciation for Edmentum and the functions available to them to meet the needs of all students. Everyone is very excited about Exact Path, which will be used this upcoming year for grades 3 to 12. Because we’ve had 12 weeks of COVID-19 outage, and then we also have a regular summer break, we want to make sure that we’re filling in gaps and decreasing that typical summer loss, which has been exacerbated by COVID-19. Students will continue to have access to their account throughout the summer.

We found that consistency and uniformity is a definite need. We had to make lemonade out of the lemons handed to us. Moving forward, we will have a uniform virtual platform. We have also built in remote learning days within our calendar to ensure we are prepared should the need arise again.

Solving for programming is only half the battle. As you’ve experienced, students learning from their own homes also comes with challenges. How have school closures evolved the parent-teacher partnership?

We acknowledge that our parents have become teachers within the home, but we’re not putting the instructional facilitation on their backs. We are asking them to help facilitate and support their children within the home. We do not want to task them with the additional burden of: “I need you to teach how to reduce a fraction.” We are asking them to help sustain those foundational skills.

For example, at our elementary level, we sent home math posters that students can hang in their rooms, such as a hundred chart or multiplication facts. Students can practice skills and vocabulary daily with the assistance of their parents as they prepare for the next school year.

Outside of academics, we’ve been hearing a lot of schools talk about elevating mental health and social-emotional learning (SEL) for students. How has that focus resonated in Halifax County Schools?

We recognize the trauma our students experienced because when they left school on March 13th, they were expecting to return Monday and see their teachers and friends. They were not expecting a total shutdown that would affect the remainder of their school year.

Our counselors hosted sessions on social-emotional learning, mindfulness, as well as, positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS), in a virtual setting for our teachers in addition to their outreach to the students at their respective schools. From the district level, we hosted virtual town hall meetings to provide updates to our stakeholders and a segment in which district leaders update across departments in a lighthearted manner to allow teachers the opportunity to relax, relate, and release—letting them see that they're not in it by themselves.

Connecting with each other and with students to navigate through these unexpected times collectively is just how Halifax County Schools plans to continue mitigating gaps and accelerating learning for all students. Want to learn even more about Halifax County’s success using Edmentum programs? Check out their complete success story.

Interested in reading more stories about learning during school closures? Check out Myra Bramlett’s story as principal at Geiger Elementary School in South Carolina.

madison.michell's picture

Madison Michell has been a member of the Edmentum team since 2014 and currently serves as a Marketing Manager. As a former Kindergarten and 3rd grade teacher during her time as a Teach For America corps member, she believes education truly has the power to transform lives. She is passionate about connecting educators with online programs, best practices, and research that improve teaching and learning for today's students.