GCSD prepares to launch online courses during pandemic

TORRINGTON – Come April 6, Goshen County School District No. 1 students will be learning again – but it will be a lot different than it was on their last regular day of school. 

Students have been out of class since March 13 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The school buildings themselves must remain closed until April 17, under the orders of Governor Mark Gordon and State Health Officer Alexia Harrist, to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus responsible for thousands of deaths around the globe and more than 2,000 in the United States. 

But ever since the closure announcement, teachers and administrators in Goshen County have been plotting out the best way to reach their students during the crisis. According to GCSD Superintendent Ryan Kramer, students in grades six through 12 will do their learning online. 

Kramer said students will only spend a small portion of their day studying. There’s a cap for older students, and it’s less for younger grades. 

“We’re using those recommendations to set the maximum, not necessarily the minimum for the teachers,” he said. “We want them to make contact, but we also want them to be working with families. Each individual family is going to be either more or less time, and we’re going to curtail that time with what we’re hearing from parents or students.”

The district will utilize an internet interface called Canvas, which Kramer said has already been used in the district. The interface will streamline the complicated process of moving online for students and teachers alike. 

“It’s got some benefits and there are some things that will make it a little easier,” he said. “We’ve offered training for the staff who wanted a little more familiarization with it. It’s a good communication tool and a one-stop shop, so we don’t have one teacher using e-mail and another using a different platform. It will help us alleviate that stress on families and students.”

Southeast Schools already have one-to-one computing, and students were told to take their machine home on their last day of school. Students at Torrington High School and Lingle-Fort Laramie High School will have designated times to pick up the computers. 

If there are enough computers, Kramer said some classes in the third to fifth grade range may move online, as well. For the rest of the elementary students, learning will be more packet-based. A lot of teachers in those grades have already found ways to contact students, Kramer said, and the district doesn’t want to interfere with what has already been established. 

“Teachers have already been reaching out throughout this two and a half weeks,” he said. “Many families already have a communication system established with their teacher and we don’t want to replace that. If they’ve already been using email with the platform to communicate expectations and exchange packets, we don’t want to take that away. 

“If we haven’t had any of those communications, we also want them to know it’s going to be more packet-based and we’re going to look at, after we get the 6-12 distribution, if there are individual classrooms that feel comfortable going fully online for grades three through five, we’ll look at that at a later date if we have enough devices in the district to do that.”

The district is still looking for ways to incorporate hands-on classes, like band, woods, automotive technology and agriculture. Kramer said he’s hoping students would be allowed to return to those classes in small groups after April 17, but regardless, it’s going to take some creativity. 

“That is one of our most challenging areas,” he said. “There have been some things shared between teachers that will give some avenues. What we’re hoping is that after April 17, in our plan, there is a portion of that plan that would see if the Department of Health would allow small groups after April 17. We could allow those kids to come in on an individual or small group basis to get those classes done. 

“If kids are living on a farm, maybe they could send a video to their teacher and demonstrate how an activity they’ve done is ag-related. If they don’t, maybe YouTube or some of those other social media outlets could help. Trying to be innovative doesn’t replace any of those hands-on activities, but we’ll think about ways they can integrate their lessons.”

Teachers will hold regular office hours every day in addition to handing out assignments. Kramer said the district’s goal, however, is to find ways for people to take care of their family’s needs during the pandemic. 

“We want everybody to have office hours, but we tried to leave it as open as possible,” he said. “There are some situations where if their spouse isn’t home, and they have three children, or even one, the difficulty of having office hours while you’re trying to care for your own children or others in the home. We want to be as flexible as possible and those office hours are more for the students who, if they need a time to connect to them, they’re there. 

“We also know our teachers are going to continuously be checking emails. I’ve already seen a string of emails from teachers, even today. They’re already working extremely hard to get ready for this.”