Even though the six school buildings in the DuBois Area School District are closed, classes continue for the students in grades K – 12. The fact that students continue to learn and teachers continue to teach is a result of the district’s decision to switch from in-person classrooms to virtual online classes. It has meant that students continue to get the education the teachers, administrators, and the board are dedicated to provide.
According to information provided by the district office and superintendent Wendy Benton, as of April 6, over 90% of the students were participating in the online classes. Benton says that the district is committed to getting that number as close to 100% as possible, and the the schools continue to work with families to overcome any barriers to students’ learning.
In order to make this happen the district has provided 1,365 Chromebook laptop computers to students and 254 hotspots to families who did not have the facilities to allow students to take part in Internet classes at home. Since the district already used those laptop computers in classrooms, they did not have to be purchased, but the additional cost of the program results from the use of the hotspots. Those costs tptal about $10,000 per month. Closing the buildings, however, will reduce overall operating costs.
When it comes to salaries, which account for some 80% of the total budget of $63 million, Pennsylvania Senate Bill 751 specifies that, “No employee of any school entity who was employed as of March 13, 2020 shall receive more or less compensation than the employee would have otherwise been entitled to receive from the school entity had the pandemic of 2020 not occurred.” In other words, as the schools continue to operate, the employees will continue to be paid. The district information stated that teachers and school counselors have office hours daily, nurses continue to check in with students, aides provide small group support, therapists provide services, and the administrators will continue to provide support in any way they can. In addition, the schools have continued to provide meals on a take-out basis.
As to student participation, Benton said students may meet with their teachers at a scheduled time, they may respond to a “question of the day,” or they may submit classwork to their teachers. The district said this is not merely ‘“enrichment” or “review” work, but is as close as possible to what would be covered were classes to be held in traditional classrooms
One teacher said that although she misses her students and classroom, the district has “hit the ground running.”
Dawna Vanderpool went on to say, “If there were an Academy Award for COVID-19 education, I would nominate our early-grades teachers and those who teach students with multiple special needs. They and their students and families had limited experience with the platforms, yet these educators rose to the challenge, providing meaningful instruction to the kids and aiding the parents . . . along with our district’s tech coaches, who patiently helped us all.” Those tech coaches often spent many hours over and above the regular school days to make sure the online classes could go on.
An earlier idea to hold classes on Saturdays has already been implemented. Those classes started on April 4. They will continue through April and May. T he last student day will be on June 1, having completed 180 days of instruction.
The District has also applied for a state grant that would help pay for the additional cost incurred by the online classes. As of this date, the Department of Education has not announced which applications will be granted. When that information is available it will be announced to the public.
People in the area have indicated that they support what the school has done at a time when it may have been easier to fall back on review lessons and other kinds of instruction that might have fulfilled the letter of the law but did not live up to the mission statement of the DuBois Area School District, Teaching Today’s Learners to Be Tomorrow’s Leaders. With the support of the parents, community, board, administration, staff and faculty, the schools will continue to strive to fulfill that mission with our students.
Editor’s note: On April 15, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera announced via email that schools within the state must provide planned instruction. DASD Superintendent Wendy Benton shared the text of that email with reynlownews.com:
It has been roughly four weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented change to our school communities, including building closures, transitions to distance learning, and the cancellation of traditional year-end activities. Over that time, I’ve been moved by the tireless efforts of school leaders across the state to ensure students and families continue to be served.
As educators, our top priority has always been to ensure the health and safety of students. As such, the immediate days after the statewide school closure were focused on communicating with families, removing barriers, and providing meals to students. As the situation evolved – and the duration of the closure extended, we placed a strong emphasis on continuity of education, either through enrichment and review or planned instruction.
Last week’s announcement that schools will remain closed for the balance of the school year was another effort to prioritize the health and safety of our students, staff, and communities. It also means that with half of April, all of May, and some of June ahead of us, we must increase the intensity and focus of our efforts around instruction for all students, at all grade levels.
As educators preparing students to continue on to postsecondary opportunities, the workforce or transitioning to their next grade, it is our responsibility and expectation that every school offer planned instruction at every grade level for all students.
I recognize that there is no precedent for what you are being asked to do and it is not an easy task, but it is our collective, moral responsibility as education leaders to do all we can to ensure equity and opportunity for those we serve. We are a state rich in diversity – and that means no single solution will be effective for all schools. That’s why PDE has outlined several resources available to support your district or school in this endeavor, including digital and non-digital options. If you have not already, please consider pursuing one of these resources or technical support by connecting with your local intermediate unit.
I know that many LEAs have already submitted Continuity of Education plans that may not yet address the need for planned instruction at all grade levels. These plans are dynamic, and as you revise and strengthen them, you can submit updates…and PDE will replace your plan with the most recent version.
These are challenging conditions, and as the situation has evolved, so has our response as educators. I am confident that, together, we will do everything in our power to ensure the provision of meaningful instruction to every student. And if there is anything my team can do to support yours, please reach out.
Thank you for all you continue to do to serve your community.
Benton added the comment, “We are already on Day 12 of planned instruction!”