DANVILLE – Danville District 118 officials and teachers have had to find a different way to teach students after schools statewide did not reopen last week.

Just days before schools were set to reopen March 30, State Superintendent of Education Carmen I. Ayala declared that “remote learning days” would begin for schools statewide on March 31 and continue until in-person instruction can resume.

During remote learning days, schools may implement either an eLearning plan or a remote learning plan that provides students with instruction and access to teachers through whatever means possible.

The remote learning days, remote learning planning days and Act of God days, however, will count as actual student attendance days and do not need to be made up.

School districts statewide were allowed up to five remote learning planning days to use at any time after March 30 to work on remote learning or eLearning plans.

Danville District 118 Superintendent Alicia Geddis said the district will be using four remote learning planning days during a two-week period.

Geddis said two days already were used this past week “to ensure the social and emotional well-being of our students.”

“We made sure they are safe and fed through a combination of teacher phone calls and online contact,” she said. “Next week we will continue with instruction.”

Planning to remotely teach the district’s nearly 6,000 students has been quite an undertaking for administrators and teachers alike. District 118 Curriculum Director Mary Ellen Bunton has been at the forefront of the remote learning plans.

“It’s like opening a brand new school at the start of a new school year,” Bunton said. “The building looks different because we’re in our houses.

“Remote learning means you’re doing it from a remote location,” she said. “We will base our instruction on what is available, but we can still do great remote learning without using any technology.”

The district finished an assessment on Friday to determine the technology needs of its students, but Bunton said she did not know yet exactly how many computers would be needed.

“We focused on the families this week,” she said Friday. “Did they need school supplies, computers or food?

“The number of computers we will need will depend on student need and the type of coursework being taught,” she said. “We’re going to prioritize the need for laptops based on the course matter.”

Even if District 118 families have issues accessing a computer or the Internet, Bunton said paper school materials still will be available.

“No matter what we will have paper materials,” she said. “Paper packets and school supplies will be delivered in conjunction with our food distribution.

“We’re going to have low-tech and no-tech options so we can reach all the kids,” she said. “It’s a fluid plan, and it’s intended that way by the state so it can be what’s best for our students.”

Some examples of low-tech and no-tech options are outlined in a handout titled “Sharpening Skills at Home” that can be found on the District 118 website.

“It’s a grid sheet we created and shared with staff. It has a list of math games students can do with the flashcards we’ve provided,” Bunton said. “They can take pictures of their work and submit it to their teacher, and their teacher will reach out to them by email or phone call.

“On Tuesday, teachers will have posted the ‘Sharpening Skills at Home’ on the electronic platform they are using to communicate with their kids. The teachers can use the whole list or choose to highlight parts of it,” she said. “Many teachers are using ClassDojo because it connects directly to their kids.

“The teachers also will be contacting their students to make sure they have the support they need for the assignments,” Bunton added.

Bethany Combs-Williams, who is the parent of a first-grader at Southwest Elementary School, said her daughter Eliza’s teacher, Katie Witzel, already has used the meeting platform Zoom to connect with her students and said Witzel plans to continue connecting with them every day from 11 to 11:30 a.m. starting Monday.

“Ms. Witzel did a Zoom meeting (Friday), and the students got to hear each other’s voice and see each other’s face,” she said. “It was so good the kids got to do that. They’re developing strong bonds because of what they’re going through.”

Witzel said, “My plan is to go online every day because my parents are telling me their kids need a routine.

“The sweetest and saddest thing is that parents are telling me their kids are missing their friends and school,” she said.

Witzel said she and the other first grade teachers “are working together as a grade level.”

“We’re not doing any new teaching, but we’ll be reviewing the concepts the students have already learned,” she explained.

“I will do a mini lesson on a subject and a mini lesson in math,” Witzel said of her remote learning plans. “Then we’ll do a test, and I’ll be there for parent support.”

Of interest to Danville High School students, Bunton said arrangements have been made to continue with dual-credit, Advanced Placement and College Express classes.

“Dual-credit classes are still being taught by Danville High School teachers but just remotely, and AP and College Express students are going to be able to take classes remotely with a DACC professor,” she said.

“Any student in these programs who needed a computer, we were able to support them,” she said.

The state, however, has suspended spring 2020 assessments for the 2019-2020 school year, including the Constitution exam, the Illinois Assessment of Readiness, Illinois Science Assessment, SAT and Dynamic Learning Maps-Alternate Assessment.

The State Board of Education also recognizes the free SAT provided by the state is the only opportunity many students have to take a college entrance exam and is working with the College Board to develop options to allow current 11th grade students to take the SAT in the fall.

“School is not out; school is just closed. We’re responsible to provide an education for all our students,” District 118 Board President Bill Dobbles said.

The remote learning plans implemented this week should be able to be sustained for the remainder of the school year, if need be.

“We have to plan for the possibility that we might not have school past April 30,” Dobbles said.

Bunton said a Remote Learning Plan Committee consisting of community stakeholders and parents has been formed to address what will happen if schools statewide remain closed past April 30.

“They will navigate our plan throughout the duration of the closure and make changes if needed,” she said. “It’s a community plan.”

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