(TNS) — Region schools are working on integrating more technology in the classroom, constructing new buildings and creating a more welcoming environment to help combat the ongoing effects from learning loss caused by the pandemic.
Superintendent Jim McCall, of Valparaiso Community Schools, said their philosophy is to focus on the child. He said Valparaiso hopes to focus on academics, arts, athletics and altruism.
He said the school has decreased class sizes and focuses on data and goals to ensure students are doing well. He also said there are interventionists in place to help students who are behind.
“We celebrate the student successes that we have,” McCall said.
He also said the school district was in a good position to move to a more online learning environment. He said the school corporation makes use of Canvas as a learning management system and is able to do blended and flexible learning.
McCall said this process does not take place over an individual year, and the school plans to continually work to help students who are behind.
Colleen Bergren, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction for the School Town of Munster, said a major priority is to have students in-person. There was a remote option last year, but it was not at a large scale. She said this was to minimize the impacts of learning loss to just the short period schools were forced to be closed from March 2020 to May 2020.
Students all have their own technology, but Bergren said it is important to ensure devices are being used beyond just surface level. She said that technology should be transformative and be necessary to an experience, rather than replace one.
Duneland School Corp. now offers a full virtual option, known as Trojan Virtual Academy, due to the pandemic. Kevin Zeck, director of alternative and virtual learning, said this is partially because some students thrive in different learning environments.
Hanover Community School Corp. realigned curriculum maps for K-12 math and English in order to account for learning gaps identified by teachers. All K-12 students also have built-in intervention time during the school day.
Deborah Snedden, assistant superintendent for Hanover, said the school district is making use of Indiana Academic Standards and statewide assessments to design lessons and identify students in need of additional support.
At Hanover, students also all have school-supported technology. They continue to involve e-learning, with four e-learning days built into the calendar.
“The past two years have been very challenging with COVID, but we have been able to keep our students in school and learning,” Superintendent Mary Tracy-MacAulay said.
Portage Township Schools is one-to-one across the district, blending learning with digital and printed content. The district also used e-learning days to do professional development.
Assistant Superintendent Michael Stephens said the school district understands there is only a finite amount of time each teacher has with his or her students, so it is important to make sure every moment is spent very intentionally.
“We feel very proud of the results we are seeing thus far,” Stephens said.
Hanover is working on a $79 million building project due to the district’s increased enrollment year after year. Red Cedars Elementary is slated to open this fall and will house all students in grades 3-5. The two current elementary schools will be home to grades K-2, and the Hanover Central Middle School will house sixth through eighth grade, when it previously housed grades 5-8.
Hanover also is constructing a preschool, Hanover Kiddy Academy, with a program for 4-year-olds to begin in fall 2022.
Valparaiso Community Schools has been through many renovations in recent years due to a facilities and operations referendum from 2015. McCall said one of the major parts of that referendum was the opening of Heavilin Elementary School.
He said a lot of the renovations have focused on updating buildings, as many were built post-World War II and were aging. Through the referendum, several renovations also were made to Valparaiso High School, he said.
Portage Township Schools also is working on several renovations. Most recently, the district opened a renovated pool in its high school. It also is planning to centrally locate administration for the high school.
Michael Stephens, assistant superintendent for PTS, said the district is upgrading and updating the district with better lighting.
Bergren said Munster has something going on at every building. She said they want the district to feel like an inviting place to learn.
Tracy-MacAulay said Hanover is proud to have a supportive community that values education, while maintaining a “small-town” feel.
McCall said Valparaiso is proud to be part of Unified Sports, which is a program where people with or without intellectual disabilities are put on the same team.
Valparaiso has a Unified track team, flag football team and bocce ball team. McCall said there is a lot of support from students, and the district has seen success with the program. The district was recognized by ESPN in 2020 for a commitment to inclusive sports.
He said they are considering what it may look like at the middle school level.
School Town of Munster currently employs a social worker at every elementary school in the district. Bergren said inclusivity is particularly important to Munster because of the diverse population.
The district has a committee of parents, leaders and community members where issues of diversity can be discussed. It allows the district to hear from those directly impacted.
Superintendent Amanda Alaniz of PTS said the district hopes to be fair. Alaniz gave the example of two students in a room, with a $20 bill on the ceiling. Whoever touches it, gets it. However, if one person is significantly taller, it’s not necessarily fair.
Alaniz said an inclusive playground is being worked on for South Haven Elementary, which would give access to students with special needs and disabilities to play.
Alaniz said the school district also uses case studies to analyze scenarios to make sure they are prepared if situations do come up.
“(We) prioritize the relationship with every child, preserving the relationship and making sure those students do feel safe and welcome,” Alaniz said.
©2022 The Times (Munster, Ind.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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