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Silver Creek elementary offer choice on learning

SILVER CREEK – “We believe the best educational environment for students is in-person, especially for our youngest students,” said Silver Creek Elementary Principal Sterling Stearns during last week’s school board meeting. “But it’s important for us to learn from the spring closure.”

With that in mind, Stearns shared the proposed reopening plan for the elementary school, which gives parents the choice between in-person or remote instruction this fall. Fifty percent of elementary families will be permitted to register their child for in-person classes, five days a week, while the other 50% of families can keep their child at home for exclusively remote instruction. Stearns said, “We want to honor what parents think is best for their child, so it’s important for us to provide opportunities for them to do that.”

The plan reflects elementary families’ concerns, as expressed in a recent districtwide survey. Of 660 families in Silver Creek’s district, 537 responded to the survey. While several factors informed the elementary school’s reopening plan, parents’ survey responses were especially important. Families of elementary students were fairly evenly split: 51.3% preferred remote learning and 48.7% preferred in-person learning.

Silver Creek’s middle and high school reopening plans follow a hybrid model wherein half the student body meets in-person for part of the week, while the other half tunes in virtually at home and the cohorts switch on their respective days. According to Superintendent Todd Crandall, this plan is reflective of families’ responses to the district’s recent survey. The majority of middle-high school families preferred in-person classes to some degree: 38% preferred 100% in-person instruction and 31.4% preferred a blended approach, while only 30.6% preferred exclusively remote learning.

Stearns said that if the survey is an accurate indicator of how parents will actually approach their child’s education this fall, then allowing half the elementary student body to enroll for in-person classes, five days a week, “would reduce our capacity enough to provide them with in-person learning and would allow us to meet the needs of the virtual learners through support of our additional staff.”

Stearns explained that families would have until Aug. 10 to enroll their child for in-person classes, pending the state education department’s approval of the reopening plan. The enrollment would pertain to the fall semester only, as instruction modalities may change mid-year. Stearns added, “If more than 70% of families choose in-person, we’ll have to adjust our plan.”

Elementary students enrolled in in-person classes will be placed in rooms of 13 or fewer students with a designated certified teacher for each classroom. Lunch and specials will be experienced as a cohort and will likely take place in the students’ main classroom. For those families who opt for remote instruction, the district will provide necessary resources including remote learning devices and Wi-Fi hotspots, if needed, as well as consistent communication through email, phone, porch visits and more.

Stearns explained that research and experience demonstrate that elementary students benefit most from a consistent learning environment, which is preferable to a hybrid model. “This is good for different learning styles and maturity,” Stearns explained. “It’s different for elementary students to shift back and forth from in-school to remote. A lot of learning at that age involves socialization, play and repetition. When you take that out of the equation, it makes learning even more difficult, but (this plan) at least gives them a consistent learning environment.”

Steve Boothe, school board president, acknowledged that more than 50 people, including board members, administrators, families and community members tuned into the school board meeting via Zoom. “This is one of our most important meetings that maybe we’ll ever have,” Boothe said. “Certainly, it’s the biggest challenge we’ve ever had. I’d like to commend the administration team for their hard work in creating this plan.”

Crandall encouraged families to ask questions and seek clarification. “We’re planning for change, not perfection,” he said. He invited families to visit the district’s Facebook page, where he will host a live question and answer session today from 6 to 8 p.m. (will be available for later viewing). The next meeting of the Silver Creek School Board is scheduled for Aug. 27 at 7 p.m. via Zoom.

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