Could virtual Wednesdays continue in Greencastle-Antrim School District?

Shawn Hardy
Echo Pilot

Could the virtual Wednesdays of 2020-21 in the Greencastle-Antrim School District last beyond the COVID-19 pandemic?

The first look at the 2021-22 calendar at Thursday's school board meeting opened the door to talk about of pros and cons of that possibility.

The board did not make any decisions and the discussion will continue.

A help desk was set up when each Greencastle-Antrim High School student was issued an iPad in January 2020. Students across the district now have iPads, which can be used on virtual Wednesdays, as well as other times.

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Things to think about

Schools have changed in the last year, the pandemic continues and it is unclear what's ahead, but asynchronous Wednesdays have served the district well this year, said Dr. Lura Hanks, superintendent. In asynchronous learning, the instruction is not in real time, but is available online.

Several adjustments have been made to when G-A schools are open to in-person learning over the course of the year so far, but virtual Wednesdays have been observed since day one at all grade levels.

They free teachers up to meet with parents, do collaborative planning with other teachers and give feedback to students — anything that takes them out of the classroom — on Wednesdays, Hanks said.

In the future, virtual Wednesdays would eliminate the need to build early dismissals and in-service days into the calendar. They also would reduce the cost for substitute teachers because teachers wouldn't have to meet with parents on regular school days, which especially occurs with learning support students and their IEPs, or individual education program.

Today's students are facing a different world that will have a lot of virtual interaction and they need to have appropriate skills, Hanks said, pointing out the school board meeting was being held entirely virtually because of the snowstorm.

Board President Shannon Blanchard said she often hears teachers say there's not enough time in the day to plan collaboratively. Studies show that student achievement is higher in countries where emphasis is placed on teacher collaboration.

"That might be why we're falling behind other countries," Blanchard said.

CDC signs remind Greencastle-Antrim School District students about health and safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Board member Tracy Baer agreed students need to learn how to learn virtually and teachers need to collaborate, but she asked about who is going to watch students, especially the younger ones, every Wednesdays as parents and grandparents go back to work.

Dr. Carter Davidson, board member, said that most people are already back at work and schools are not day care centers, but the district is there to support families.

Hanks said that Wednesdays are now virtual due to the pandemic, but in the future the campus could be open to small groups on Wednesdays.

Another concern is that virtual Wednesdays do not work for everyone. Several board members said they have one child who does well virtually and another who struggles.

Board member Shannon Yates said sometimes virtual Wednesdays are not as much about education as they should be, such as just involving homework.

Some teachers feel they have stumbled on virtual Wednesdays, Blanchard agreed, but said the longer the district does this, the better it will get.

"We're not going to please everyone," said board member Charles Ford, adding it is important to constantly be evolving and changing, adopt new things and throw some away.

Hanks said another issue the board will need to look at is whether it will continue that all-virtual option currently available to families.

"We'll keep this all on the radar," she said.