Some students not engaging in online education with USD 373

NEWTON - Online education, and hybrid learning, has been difficult for some in the Newton school district.


At USD 373, teachers have been working upwards of six additional hours a day to deal with online students — and some of those students are just not responding. It is a concern for district administration as schools move to a hybrid model next week.


"I know that teachers are doing everything possible and just exhausting themselves to connect with these students. It is not a lack of district staff reaching out," said Mallory Morton, member of the board of education. "... They are doing everything possible to connect with these kids, but there is nothing coming back from the other side."


In a hybrid model, students attend school in the building twice a week. They are expected to attend online classes and do coursework via internet the other three days of a school week.


"The key is for kids to understand they are online the other day. Some kids think they are off," said Caleb Smith, principal of Newton High School.


He and superintendent Fred Van Rankin estimated Monday that 30% of high school students are not engaged online during hybrid learning mode — when students spend two days in classrooms and three days online each week.


"We can’t let this go on. It is halfway into semester right now.," Van Rankin said. ... We may need to have some interventions."


Both Chisholm Middle School and Newton High School will finish this week in hybrid mode before going online only next week.


The struggle is not unique to the high school as the district saw 23% of the school participation opt for online-only learning this school year. School administrators say some kids are just not engaging.


"I know it is hard for parents. They are not used to being in that role, to facilitate this," Van Rankin said. "As a remote learner, that is their responsibility. We can’t be there. This is the only way we can be there. We are meeting live, it is not all prerecorded lessons. ... (Our system) is not perfect but it is pretty darn good."


Every level has seen struggles with online learning.


"We are losing some of them.," Van Rankin said. "They are not checking in. They are checked out of school. ... They think remote means they do not have to do the work."


The district has implemented a system called Canvass, it creates an online dashboard for students — and parents — to give them access to all class meetings and class assignments.


Assignments can be turned in using Canvass. At the middle school level, assignments can also be turned in using Summit Learning and Google Classrooms depending on the class and teacher requirements.


But the struggle of engagement remains — some students simply do not check in or do the coursework.