Volume No. 18 Issue No. 2 February 2021  



  D 49 — what’s up for 2021?
  

     El Paso County Colorado School District 49 switched to e-learning last November, and is hoping to move into full enrollment and a full schedule by the end of March.
   
   Peter Hilts, D 49 chief education officer, said the plan for the second half of the school year is to sustain in-person learning to the greatest degree possible. “We already started back with 100% of our pre-K through fifth-grade students that want to be in person; we will continue to provide an e-learning option through the end of the school year,” he said. D 49 began a 50-50 hybrid for middle and high school students starting Jan. 25, with a continued e-learning option for those students through the end of the year.
   
   He said some students have thrived under the conditions of e-learning. There are students who either have a personal disposition for independent learning or perhaps they had more parental support, more technology at home or maybe a helpful sibling; Hilts said those students did better. The students who didn’t have advantages struggled more; for some students, routine is important so the disruption has been incredibly difficult, he said. “The bottom line is a lot of students are very resilient and they have stayed with it, their parents have supported them and their teachers have performed, quite frankly, heroically; and they have been able to get a lot of good learning in this year,” he said.
   
   The teachers have fared well because they put out incredible effort, he said. Paraprofessionals, special services providers and various therapists have also stepped up to the plate. They have adapted their delivery, teaching and service models so they could keep serving students throughout the year, Hilts said.
   
   Dealing with COVID-19 restrictions throughout the year has positives and negatives, he said. On the positive side, D 49 developed a whole e-learning architecture that is going to give them some options for flexibility in the years to come. “There’s no question that many of our students developed life skills like time management, technology skills, the ability to interact on a video conference; plus, there has definitely been opportunities for students to act more independently and even support their families and siblings,” Hilts said.
   
   Debbie Putney, fifth-grade teacher at Meridian Ranch Elementary School, said, “I feel as though students’ mental health is becoming a greater issue and some need to be in the school setting. I believe in offering both in-person and online to allow parents to make the decision that is best for their family.” Putney said there is just no replacing in-person, live conversations where there are no outside distractions such as parents working from home, siblings, pets, etc. She said this year has been unpredictable and the key has been flexibility.
   
   Sheryl Salter, parent of a 10th grader at Falcon High School and a paraprofessional at D 49 said, “I think both parents and school folks are trying hard not to just throw up our hands in defeat and declare the past year a total loss. Yet, it also feels like we’re getting a second wind with the vaccine beginning to be distributed; plus, it’s a fresh new year.” Salter said with the second half of the school year ahead of them, maybe everyone will try some new things and hope for a strong end to the school year. Although she said her son needs to go back to school, she is still nervous about sending him.
   
   Cindy Halsey, parent of an 11th grader at Falcon High School, said this has been a rough year; it’s hard for the kids to get motivated to participate with e-learning; yet, going into school with only a few other kids and still having to take part in online conferences has also been hard. “I know the teachers and educators are doing everything they can to create a good learning experience for our students, Halsey said. I think it must be much more difficult for people with young children than it is for someone like me with a 17-year-old who is capable of doing his own work.”
   
   Hilts said the negative outcomes they predicted — stress, uncertainty and reduced support systems has impacted many students’ mental wellness. “We have a lot of students who are desperate to get back to what they perceive as normal,” he said. “We are doing everything we can to not only get them back into school where there are strong support systems but also help them identify and then respond to or recover from any kind of stress or trauma they may have experienced during the pandemic.”
 
 
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