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Distance learning: Teacher-student connection emphasized

Marquette Area Public Schools

MARQUETTE — Marquette Area Public Schools is trying to adapt to the reality of increased distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a Monday meeting shown on YouTube, the MAPS Board of Education heard an update from Marquette Senior High School Principal Jon Young on how distance learning is affecting students at the school.

“As we know, this is a unique time and we have some unique circumstances,” Young said.

The situation is going to get more complicated following Sunday’s executive order from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which includes a mandate that high schools go to distance learning through Dec. 8.

MSHS students already have been attending classes in person, online or a hybrid of both.

Students’ progress has been tracked to determine the impact of the COVID-19 situation on students in terms of their success rates, Young said.

“Clearly, there’s some factors that play into this,” he said. “We have far more online students than we’ve ever had in the past, and then also we have hybrid for the first time.”

Young said he conducted a five-year comparison of first-marking period, and has made some discoveries.

He said there has been relatively no change with face-to-face students. However, he called the change with the online students has been “alarming” with 51% failing one class.

“That’s a very significant number,” Young said.

He pointed out that over the last five years, the passing rate of MSHS online students was about 90%.

“Although they were online, the vast majority of them were actually still in a face-to-face classroom taking an online class, and it shows the importance of making connections with an adult in the school setting,” Young said.

Even with about half the online students struggling, he said the rate of students failing two or more classes drops to 14%. Only 15% of MSHS hybrid students failed at least one class.

“What that shows us is that there’s a class that they’re really struggling with, or perhaps that overall, online they’re struggling so they’ve decided to put less focus or less emphasis on one class,” Young said of the online students.

Ideas on how to correct this have been discussed, he said, which include changing the way the marking period grades are marked.

“With COVID, we want to have some flexibility,” said Young, who noted that a grace period should be included so students can rebound from early difficulties — “not having everything in place from the start; learning a new online system with Brightspace, some of the headaches that come with the change in between face-to-face versus online, all of those different things that students struggled with from the beginning.”

The first change made was regarding how marking period grading is recorded; typically, the first making period would account for 40% of a student’s semester grade, the second period would account for 40% and the examination would make up 20%, Young said.

The decision was made, Young said, to put the first two periods and the examination into a system involving total points.

That allows teachers to be more rigorous with assignments during the second marking period, with there already being more activities, lessons and assignments because the new learning system is being handled better now than at the start of the year, he said. Also, the current marking period is a week longer than the previous period.

“With all that in mind, there’s going to be more assignments,” Young said. “There’s going to be more tests, quizzes, other things along those lines, and so it will naturally give more emphasis to the second marking period without negatively impacting any of our students.”

He said it is hoped those grades will be more indicative of what students achieved over the first semester, rather than being unbalanced.

Young again mentioned the importance of students connecting with adults in a building is important. A Michigan Virtual teacher now will “target mentor” specific all-virtual students identified on a failure list to address their struggles, while an after-school tutor position will be changed to an online position that will meet weekly with targeted list of students. Guidance counselors also will work with specific students.

For the next three weeks, MSHS staff will try to mirror the face-to-face schedule in an online format.

“Teachers will hold a Zoom session at the start of each hour, so at 7:30 in the morning, first hours would meet,” Young said. “At 8:22, second hour would meet, and so on through the schedule, and by keeping that synchronous aspect of it, we hold students accountable to be part of that and attend that. We also hopefully make that connection that’s so important on a daily basis with our students.”

Another goal, he noted, is to handle questions from students — which eliminates the need for follow-up emails from teachers — and address the “uncertainty” that comes with the online environment.

Necessary changes will be made over the next three weeks as the need arises, Young said.

Case numbers updated

MAPS Superintendent Bill Saunders provided the latest numbers of positive COVID-19 cases in the district, which are being charted daily on the website’s dashboard at mapsnet.org.

He said that as of Monday evening, there were 17 active cases in the district — 13 students and four employees.

Cumulatively, there were 37 probable or possible cases as of Sept. 8.

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500 ext. 250. Her email is cbleck@miningjournal.net.

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