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Families share their in school and at home learning experiences

Starting the school year in August had parents, teachers and school administrators trying to decide what was best for their kids.

Parents contemplated whether to send their children back to school in person this fall or enroll their children in the Tea Area Online Academy. Of the total 1,960 students enrolled in the district, 208 students started the school year in the online academy. Curriculum director Tonia Warzecha said from those students 85 were in elementary, 52 in middle school and 71 in high school.

Laine Larsen’s son, Samuel, was one of the 85 students in elementary school in the first quarter who learned through the Tea Area Online Academy. Larsen said she and her husband thought for a long time what was best for their Venture Elementary fourth-grader.

“We just kind of decided at the beginning of the year, we just thought it best to see how the first quarter of school played out with all the craziness going on in the world. We’re aware of what’s going on but we try not to see too much into it,” Larsen said. “We just thought it was best for our family to keep him home and it worked really well because right now I am working from home with my job.”

Virtual learning was not without its bumps, but the format worked well in their situation. Larsen has been working from home. She did not think virtual learning would work if she was working from an office.

At the beginning of each week, the teacher would send an email to the parents with an attachment with the assignments for the week. Every morning, they would log in for a morning check in and attendance. They had a Google Meet once a week to ask questions and they were able to message the teacher.

After completing the first quarter, Larsen feels that the district has done a good job so they decided to send him to school in person during the second quarter.

“We thought long and hard about it and we’ve had a lot of discussions with him and it’s one of those things where it seems the school district has handled the situation really, really well,” Larsen said. “We feel safe sending him back.”

By the end of the first quarter, the total number in the online academy was 166. As they begin the second quarter this week, they had 142 students enrolled for online learning.

“We had a 10-day window where they could change their method of instruction in the first quarter, and then throughout the quarter, depending on extenuating circumstances, we made adjustments in the instructional delivery for students,” Warzecha said.

She acknowledges that throughout the first quarter, some students moved out of the district, others decided online learning wasn’t working for them and others decided COVID-19 wasn’t as much of a concern as it was at the beginning of the year and went back to face-to-face learning.

“We let them do that because we acknowledge that our online academy is a very good option for families, but we do believe the face-to-face environment where we can build relationships and continue to have that interactive real time learning with our students it’s very beneficial for everybody,” Warzecha said. “If a student approached us and said I’d really like to go to face-to-face learning, we made arrangements for them to do that.”

Warzecha said changing from online to in-person learning is less complicated for elementary and middle school students. High school students have to deal with credit-bearing classes.

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