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Episode 60: Help for Students and Parents with Virtual Classroom Questions

Learning at-home in a virtual classroom is something some parents and students are still adjusting to in these unprecedented times. On this episode of the Supercast, we talk to two Jordan School District employees who are available every day to help with virtual classroom questions. They are working hard to lead students on a path to online learning success.


Audio Transcription

Superintendent Godfrey:
Hello, and welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. Learning at home in a virtual classroom is something some parents and students are still adjusting to in these unprecedented times. On this episode of the Supercast, we talked to two Jordan School District employees who are available every day to help with virtual classroom questions. They're working hard to lead students on a path to online learning success. We start with a friend of the show, someone who was featured last week about a unique way of connecting with kids, using an impressive Pez collection at Oprah Hills Middle School. Now Kimberly Navratil is working from home with a new assignment, Online Outreach for students and parents, unprecedented back to back guests spot. We have Kimberly Navratil back with us to talk about her current experience. In our last podcast, you were still at Oquirrh Hills back in February. Things have changed since then for all of us.

Kimberly:
Haven't they?

Superintendent Godfrey:
Kimberly, just a little bit, tell us about your new assignments for this year.

Kimberly:
So I am now in a very lucky situation. I felt blessed and fortunate to be working with online students. So basically, I'm a support for the schools. The schools are the support for the students and we kind of all work together as a team. Let's say there are students with issues who are having a hard time logging in or not understanding Canvas, how to work Canvas and are just having a hard time getting going. Teachers will fill out an engagement concern, and that concern comes to me. I try to see what I can do to get the ball rolling and get kids up and running and learning. And it's been really great.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So, teachers are the first point of contact and schools are the first point of contact, but ultimately if they have been unsuccessful in making contact with the student is supposed to be learning online, that's where you come in. Correct?

Kimberly:
Correct. And it's been great because some of these teachers heard about me because I worked with another one of their friends, another coworker who is having a concern, and so they refer me to their coworker and then I'm getting concerns from other people and it's been great because I want to get the word out there. I want teachers to know that there's support and help for them, just like there's support and help for students and parents.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Support is really what it's about right now, because we're all in a difficult circumstance. We're doing things we haven't had to do before. And people need the help that they haven't needed before because of these these different circumstances. We're all going through the pandemic together, but supporting each other is how we'll make it and how we'll continue to provide a high level of education. Without revealing any personal details, what are some of the things that you've seen happening with students? Some of the circumstances they find themselves in and how have we been able to help.

Kimberly:
I would say maybe he number one is just learning. Like you said, this is near to all of us. So parents, students, we're all learning. I'm a parent myself with an online learner at home. And so we're all learning how to manage our time, how to schedule, but ultimately the learning of Canvas. Learning how to work Canvas, how to log in, how to submit assignments, how to log into Zoom class meetings for your elementary students. It's huge. And Spanish. I've come across a lot of parents who don't speak English. And so they're receiving emails or instruction and they're not translating them when I'm able to make contact with these parents. Luckily, I speak enough Spanish that I'm able to help them get started. And if I can't complete my translation all the way through, I find them help or support with someone who can.

And it's amazing how a lot of us have the same struggles. You have families with small children and I've had families with four small children. I've had families with five elementary school students and sometimes parents just need a sounding board. They just need someone to talk to because, like you said, this is new to all of us. Having someone to talk to someone to share your concerns or issues you're having, it's been fulfilling for me. I've cried with moms. Twice now, I've cried with moms. I mean, it's hard not to put yourself in their shoes. It's hard on the parents. It's hard on the students. It's hard on the teachers. It's hard on the schools. This is just a crazy time.

Superintendent Godfrey:
What are some of the things that you've been able to tell parents that have helped get them through things when they do call and they need to talk about it. You talked about the mechanics of just making everything work. Are there some approaches or mindsets that helped as well?

Kimberly:
Oh, definitely. The one thing that I kind of admit with all of the parents, the struggle is real. I mean, this is a real struggle and you're not alone. Everyone, whether they're willing to admit it or not, this is affecting them, and it is not easy. I know that boys struggle a lot more than girls. There's a lot of parents who say, "My daughters are great, but my son, he just can't sit still." Or we have students who have ADHD and they have a hard time sitting still, but there's health conditions at home that prevent them from going to school and learning in person. And I myself had a son with ADHD, so luckily I was able to share with them advice that I've learned from many teachers. He needed a fidget, like a squeeze ball, a stress ball, a fidget spinner. Another thing, a designated work spot for the kids has been helpful. Their own desk or somewhere they can go without distractions, not close to a TV. They're not close to their phones. Students have a hard time knowing that they're supposed to sit there for 30 minutes for a Zoom meeting or an hour, or they have a break for 10 minutes. And their concept of time is frankly all digital nowadays. And so they don't understand.

Superintendent Godfrey:
The other thing you brought up is, you know, sometimes we get the notion that because a student has chosen to learn online, that they're well-suited to learning online. And that's not necessarily the case, as you indicated in your own family. So that choice is because you're doing that for health reasons, even for someone else in your family, even if that isn't the easiest option for you. So we do have a mismatch sometimes that has to be corrected, and that's just creates some additional stress for everyone.

Kimberly:
Correct. I found lots of that. And then even if there isn't a health issue, I've I found we have children who are majoring anxiety, which leads me to a major point that I found is key. With online learning, as with anything in life, is communication. If teachers don't know what's going on, they cannot help. And I found that parents, if you're struggling, if your kids are struggling, if you're unsure, reach out to your teacher. Teachers that I've worked with are more than willing to help and excited and happy and truly willing to do whatever it takes to help get their students on board. And communication is just key. I think it's just a key reminder because communication is something that sometimes goes by the wayside when our bandwidth is already taken up with so many other things that we're trying to do, open communication with your teacher or your school counselor, or whoever your contact at the school is, is very important.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Kimberly, thanks for spending time with us. And thanks for everything you're doing to support students, teachers, and schools and families. I know it's making a big difference. So thank you. If they need to contact you and they need some support, how do they get ahold of you?

Kimberly:
Oh, that's a great question. I am here to help. So I would love to receive emails and I receive phone calls either way. I'm here to help. My email is kimberly.navratil@jordandistrict.org. And my phone number is (801) 567-8131. So feel free, reach out. We're here to help support. We're all in this together.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Okay. Thanks very much, Kimberly.

Kimerly:
Thank you.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Stay with us. When we come back, Online Learning Consultant Ammon Wiemers joins us to answer more virtual classroom questions.

Stacee:
Hello, I'm Stacee Worthen, Secondary Counseling Specialist for Jordan School District. Do you know all the ways during school district counselors can help you and your students? School counselors play such an important role in our schools. They provide parents with resources to help guide their children in academics. They provide support with the mental and social well-being of students in our school. And if you were in the process of preparing a student for college or just for starting the conversation of higher education, now is the perfect time to reach out to your child's counselor. We can assist with college applications and college readiness. I encourage parents and guardians to schedule an appointment and get to know your student's counselor. Together, counselors and parents can help develop plans and strategies for students to succeed, long after they leave Jordan School Districts. Reach out. We're always here to help. You can find us and learn more at counseling.jordandistrict.org.

Superintendent Godfrey:
We're here talking with Ammon Wiemers about online classes and the online program here in Jordan District. Thanks for joining us Ammon.

Ammon:
Yeah, you bet.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Ammon is one of the many people who has worked very hard to get online education up and running any new way, very, very rapidly. We like to say that we, as a district, did what would have taken five years in five weeks because we prepared for a new school year very quickly. That's not to say that we didn't have online courses before. Of course we did, and I want to talk a little bit about that Ammon, but things had to change dramatically to offer options for teachers to teach online and for students to learn online. And I just want to express appreciation before we get started for the work you and your staff have done to make that possible. That was a huge leap forward.  And there are always bumps along that road, but you guys have done an amazing job of providing that very quickly and efficiently.

Ammon:
Yeah. Thank you. Really, the rubber meets the road in the classrooms though. And so we have just a tremendous army of teachers that are really doing things that we didn't think possible a couple of months ago and doing it daily. And if nothing else, that appreciation goes to the people doing it. The interacting with the students the most and giving the instruction. They're doing amazing things.

Superintendent Godfrey:
And I think the things that they're doing will continue to provide a broad variety of options to students, even after pandemic learning is over. And so things will shift when the pandemic is over, but I don't think we'll ever return to where we were.

Ammon:
Oh yeah, no doubt about that. And for good. And that's not something that we should say is a downfall.  We're making huge strides forward. Now we've been moving incrementally towards this and we just took a big, big step this year.

Superintendent Godfrey:
That's a good way of putting it. We have been moving in that direction and Utah Students Connect is what we had in place previous to the pandemic. Can you just give a very brief description of what that looked like before this fall?

Ammon:
Yeah. So Utah Students Connect is a consortium of six districts who formed in 2011-12 school year was when we started offering online course options to students. We recognize that the limited number of students meant that we needed some help from our friends to be able to offer courses to as large a number of students as wanted to. And so we formed with some other districts that are our neighbors and formed, created some courses and we've offered online options for high school students at grades 9 through 12, since the 2011-12 school year. And that online program has been successful. And it's informed the work that we're doing with the virtual students this year.

Superintendent Godfrey:
And when did that was expanded, it was already a very successful program. I had you and other members of your staff online teachers before the pandemic come and present to the Board, the great pass rates and participation rates and high grades that students were receiving in online courses. You have really blown away, the records of other programs in the state. And so we had a robust program to start with, and then the pandemic came and we had to dramatically expand those offerings. And so we're still part of Utah Students Connect, but then we had teachers and students who requested the opportunity to teach and learn online. And then we recruited a lot of extra teachers who were fortunately willing to take that on and add some additional online classes to their schedule. And so Utah Students Connect still exists, but then we added to that other layers to accommodate student and teacher requests.

Ammon:
That's right. And I think that one of the challenges that comes with that expanding the program is understanding how the two are similar and how they're different. And I think that, understanding what the online or virtual classroom looks like in the district is important to be able to be successful in that we're expecting something and getting something else, it's frustrating. But I think that if we understand what we're signing up for, then we'll be more successful in that choice. And so maybe we can discuss what virtual learning, what that means, what it is that students can, what it is.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Yeah. And that's one of my questions for you. What are some of the misunderstandings out there that might be helpful to clear up? And like you said, everyone had different expectations coming into this, what virtual learning would look like. What are some of the misunderstandings that you've heard?

Ammon:
Well, there are two terms that I wish for once and for all we could do away with. And I think that those point to the misunderstanding. There's no such thing as a virtual student. Just like, there's no such thing as a virtual teacher. We have virtual classrooms, but in those virtual classrooms, we have real teachers and real students doing real work. And I think that when we understand it in that mindset, it's not so different than a classroom in the school. Students are still enrolled in their schools. They are still connected to the resources and the support at their schools. They just happened to be attending a virtual classroom, but they still have to stay connected. And this will qualify for any of the services, any of the support, and helps that are available for students who are enrolled in traditional classrooms, still afforded to them.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Yeah, I think you're right. We can talk about virtual, online distance learning, and we use all those terms interchangeably. And it is helpful to focus on the language of a virtual classroom, but real people in that classroom. Are there other misunderstandings that would be helpful for us to discuss?

Ammon:
There, isn't a shortcut, right? And so I think that's important to understand. There's no shortcut in learning. Moving to a virtual classroom, doesn't make it easier. Because we're using a technology or a computer, learning is still hard work, teaching is still hard. And so I think that if we understand that teachers and students are willing to put in the work and it's a mutual association relationship. They're both interested in the success, they're willing to put in that hard work. And so we're not so distant. People may think we are not because we're not in a classroom, but we still can form relationships with the teacher and the teacher can with the students.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Ammon, thanks very much for joining us. I know it's very busy for you and your staff. I really appreciate everything you're doing again, and that you would take time to be on the Supercast. And we look forward to more great things with virtual classrooms with real students and teachers at any time.

Thanks for joining us on the Supercast. And remember, education is the most important thing you'll do today. We'll see you

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