CASPER, Wyo. — The Natrona County School District are preparing options for students for the fall semester of the 2020-2021 school year.
The district is required to prepare a “Smart Start Re-Opening Plan” that the Wyoming Department of Education must approve. That plan is in draft form and the NCSD Board of Trustees discussed that draft during a Monday, July 20 work session.
NCSD Executive Director of School Improvement-Curriculum & Instruction Dr. Charlotte Gilbar explained that the district is preparing to offer students both the option to return to schools for traditional instruction and a virtual enrollment option available to all students.
“Parents will have the option to enroll their students in virtual learning,” Gilbar said, noting that the district are calling this option “Natrona Virtual.”
While the virtual option will not offer as many elective choices as the in-person instruction option, Gilbar said that the virtual program would provide some electives and will offer courses which will allow students to meet graduation requirements.
“Do we have any idea how many students will choose virtual?” Trustee Clark Jensen asked.
Gilbar said that the virtual option is also a choice for students participating in the NCSD summer school program. She said that 6% of students who enrolled for the summer school program selected the virtual option.
She said the district is loosely using that figure to estimate how many students might enroll for that option in the fall, but that she can’t be sure how many students will ultimately select this option.
In addition to the in-person and virtual options, the district is preparing other remote learning models that would be used in the case of outbreaks of COVID-19.
NCSD have purchased 50 Swivl video collaboration systems to support the remote learning options. Gilbar said that would provide at least one system for each school in the district.
She added that the Swivl system utilizes cameras that track teachers as they move around a classroom. The systems also include several microphones to ensure sounds from any part of the classroom can be transmitted to students learning from home. Additionally, teachers would wear ear pieces which allow them to hear what students are saying from home.
The Swivl systems would support two scenarios. In one case, it would allow students who have to stay home due to illness to tune into what is happening in the in-school classroom. Gilbar explained that learning would be done synchronously so students learning from home would be expected to tune in at the same time the class is happening in-person.
The Swivl technology would also support remote learning should an entire classroom or school be closed due to a larger outbreak. Gilbar explained that in this case, teachers could provide instruction either from the classroom while all students are home or teachers could provide such instruction from their own homes.
The Wyoming Department of Education still needs to approve the remote learning model the district is proposing, according to Gilbar. She added that in order to successfully implement these programs, teachers would need about seven additional hours of professional development to ensure they have the knowledge base to use the systems effectively.
Gilbar said that the proposed remote learning model would give the district the flexibility to adjust to any possible public health order scenario that schools may face throughout the year.
“It is a very new way of thinking about learning,” she said.
Gilbar added that the remote learning options could address student learning needs in situations beyond the challenges posed by COVID-19. Remote learning could help student-athletes keep up with what is happening in their classrooms when they travel for competitions.
The remote learning options could ensure students facing in school or our of school suspensions are still tuning into class. Gilbar said that the Swivl technology also would allow teachers to record classes which students could listen to at a time different from the in-person class.
Trustee Angela Coleman asked how the district is planning to ensure all students have access to technology needed to tune into remote learning options. Gilbar said the district is planning to provide technology to every student whether they are attending in-person or remotely. Students attending in-person would take tablets or computers home at the end of each day so that if a closure goes into effect, they’d have the device they need to attend remotely.
Superintendent Mike Jennings said that NCSD has the devices needed to provide technology to all students, but the challenge is ensuring all students have internet connectivity at home.
Jennings said that the district is working to address that aspect of technology as well, obtaining hotspots for students in rural areas with poor connectivity.
The Wyoming Department of Health provides COVID-19 case, variant, death, testing, hospital and vaccine data online. The department also shares information about how the data can be interpreted. COVID-19 safety recommendations are available from the CDC.