A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Innovative mountain K-12 school districts were ahead of the curve on successful at-home learning

By Ron Daley
Special to NKyTribune

Part Two of Two

Rural Eastern Kentucky school districts have utilized the innovative learning practices and digital teaching platforms they have used for years to jump-start the “Non-Traditional Instruction” (NTI) programming necessary when school in-person classes were forced to shut down in mid-March because of COVI19.

Dr. Jennifer Carroll, the professional learning lead for Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative, says the networked relationship that KVEC districts have worked together to form and sustain is helping support them during the pandemic and emergency non-traditional instruction. 

“KVEC Instructional Supervisors have voiced how beneficial the technology support KVEC provided through the Race to the Top District (RTT-D) grant provided an infrastructure for remote teaching and learning.

“KVEC Principals have met via Zoom weekly to share successes and help each other develop solutions to challenges that schools have never had to deal with before, including how to teach students with disabilities, how to provide remote instruction when a computer and/or internet is not available, how to assess student learning, and other challenges. KVEC Counselors have met to discuss strategies for providing Counseling services to students in a remote environment. KVEC Instructional Supervisors are meeting regularly to discuss academic re-entry for students and the professional learning required of educators.”

Jackson Independent Technology Director Jeff Coots praised the value of the KVEC consortia and the RTT grant.

“We have been preparing for the digital movement over the past 5 to 6 years. Our district, administration, staff, and students started down a path that would CHANGE education forever. Through this program, our plans were to build a network infrastructure that would support a 1 to 1 program for students at our school. But this was only the beginning, we knew that for this to work we would have to focus on PD that helped our teachers to become more than a teacher in our school, but a leader in our district. Through professional development opportunities that were available from ARI for teachers and staff our staff has ground more knowledge in content. 

“At the same time, our district also saw the need for our school to become part of the state’s NTI program. To accomplish this task, we felt that our staff also needed to become more knowledgeable about our digital resources and how to use them effectively. Our district summer PD focused on getting all school teachers google certified before the first year of NTI and that training has been one of the most powerful that we have had that has made it so much easier for us to move toward COVID-19 NTI.”

Coots added that a key element of the RTT grant was the funding provided to over 900 teacher $1,000 innovation grants to try new strategies in the classroom and share the results with other educators. Most of the grants concerned the use of technology. It has challenged teachers to deal with issues that they have had in their class and think of solutions and then apply them. With them having applied for over the years, they have faced many challenges and been very successful and when this COVID-19 issue arose, so did the Innovators in our district.”

Wolfe County Superintendent Kenny Bell is very pleased with the dedication and work of his teachers and staff to continue learning for their students while in-person instruction was forced to close. Bell cited several innovative strategies including in business math in which students filled out a job application, answered 30 interview questions, and then participated in mock interviews. The online class began with a bell ringer and ended with an exit ticket to gage learning for the next day.

Using an example, Bell said that prior to NTI Days, students were given instructions on how to reach instructor Barnett who created a classroom on Facebook titled Barnetts’ NTI instruction. Students were given the NTI work along with ways to contact Barnett via email, text, message, and zoom conference meeting. Students have access to a google classroom where they submit their work and communicate.

Barnett was available from the hours of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. She created conducted classroom settings at the following times. Algebra 11-11:30 a.m., Integrated 11:30-noon, and Geometry 2:30.-3:30 p.m.

During this time, she was able to work one-on-one with students, or in small groups. Barnett was able to answer questions that related to the assignment, put grades in IC, called parents, graded students’ submissions as they entered them on google classroom, and taught students google classroom and videos. Students were paired into groups, took notes, and participated in live activities. Communication was provided through a group on Facebook, private messages, text messages, zoom conference calls, and phone calls.

Floyd County Superintendent Danny Adkins kept guardians, students, the district and community informed through effective social media about their work while in classes instruction had ceased.

Lee Superintendent Wasson said the staff “embraced the challenge that we will not see our students anymore this year and working to ensure that we provide meaningful learning and support to our students through this challenging time. Teachers stepped out of their box to adapt to a new way of learning and monitoring progress. Our food service staff stepped up and begin to prepare meals for a growing number of students every day. Our bus drivers stepped up and began to deliver meals to families in need. And, our leadership has stepped up to try to make the end of the year activities special for our kids.”

Like other school districts in the state the Harlan County District has continued to provide meals to students at home. These include deliveries of lunch and breakfast for the next morning on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. Approximately 7,000 meals are delivered per day, with this being about 3,500 each for breakfast and lunch.

Zoom and Google have been favorites of teachers, Roark explains. These have been utilized to deliver online instruction as well as just to allow direct communication to and from students.

Harlan teachers have made concentrated efforts to reach those students who may not have access to technology at home. These actions have included distributing laptops or Chrome books to students. Paper packets are delivered. Packets are also available on the district’s website. Students across the district have utilized the lunch buses to return assignments, scholarship applications, return library books, textbooks and much more.

The arts in Harlan have continued using technology. The choir has virtual rehearsals. Drama has continued to work on their musical The Little Mermaid. Instead of stopping, they have continued to have their virtual rehearsals and are planning for their performance soon. Virtual classes are held one on one in music theory students.  They are working on original compositions.

School-based health clinics are offering telehealth visits in Harlan and in other districts.

The KVEC school districts also use the its digital platform www.theholler.org for online teaching resources.

School officials have seen an even greater appreciation for the work of our teachers, and parents, grandparents, siblings, and other guardians have collaborated to further the education of the student at home.

Ron Daley resides in Lexington. He was inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame in 2017. He is the strategic partner lead for KVEC.

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