PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The COVID-19 pandemic has forced school districts across the state to come up with new learning alternatives for the upcoming school year. The Salem-Keizer School District opened up their new digital learning program this week, garnering a lot of interest from parents — but also a lot of questions.
Schools were forced to completely switch to online learning in a matter of weeks and during that time there was a lot of learning along with much trial and error for teachers. But through that experience — they’ve figured out what works and what doesn’t.
The Salem-Keizer School District has now opened up registration for its EDGE Program, which stands for Enhanced Digital and Guided Education.
This online academy won’t be huge online lecture halls, because educators say that kind of static learning doesn’t work for the long haul. Instead, SKSD launched a brand new learning management system — which will pair teacher-led instruction with family-supported and independent at-home learning.
Classes will be closer to 25 students, but teachers will also provide small group sessions of five or six kids. The assistant superintendent says this creates more care and connection.
“What we’re hoping to accomplish with EDGE is regular touchpoints with teachers, regular community, building activities with other students who are registered in that same cohort,” Assistant Superintendent Kraig Sproles explained. “One of the things I really like about our EDGE program, which is slightly different than possibly some other digital platforms being introduced, is that we are going to connect our students back to their neighborhood schools.”
Students enrolled in the program will still be students of the school they would’ve attended in person.
The district says they are going to reduce the number of topics they cover in order to cover it more deeply. Sproles says teachers have found more creative ways for kids to demonstrate their learning, from making videos to sharing poems and having group discussions.
Educators also say that online learning proved to be the most challenging for younger learners.
“I focus primarily on elementary and I’m nervous about our earliest learners in this,” Sproles said. “If you can’t read and you’re six years old, navigating digital content is really difficult and it requires pretty much a side-by-side assistance from a parent, an older sibling or a guide of some sort. So we are trying to build in a lot of pictures, videos, practice back and forth that can be done verbally for some of our youngest learners.”
Salem-Keizer will also be offering a hybrid system where some kids do in-person learning half the time and at-home learning the other half of the week.
Since the pandemic is changing our lives on a weekly basis, parents have asked if their kids can switch from EDGE and back to school or vice versa.
The simple answer is yes — but that it won’t extremely fluid.
Salem-Keizer is moving to a quarter system, so they’re looking at opening up the opportunity to switch at the end of a quarter. Sproles says logistically it would be easier to switch your child from EDGE back into the classroom — but harder to switch a kid from the classroom to EDGE.
Students and families can learn more about the EDGE Program and other support for students online. For more information, go here.