According to a recent survey of Faribault Public Schools families, 62% of parents and 52% of students were either neutral or satisfied with distance learning this school year.
Families had a full month to complete the survey, which was released at the end of December and closed at the end of January. Nearly 700 responded to the survey, about 28% representing Faribault High School, 32% from Faribault Middle School and 21% with children at the elementary and early childhood levels. The survey was offered in English, Spanish and Somali.
During the March 8 School Board meeting, Faribault Community Education Director Anne Marie Leland and Director of Teaching and Learning Tracy Corcoran reviewed the survey questions along with feedback. Some of the questions offered respondents several potential responses to select from, others had a five-point rating with areas to offer written comments.
In the portion of the survey that asked parents to rate the impact of distance learning on their families, 167 respondents said they enjoyed engaging in distance learning with their children, but 377 said it’s been quite stressful. During distance learning, 438 noticed a decrease and 77 noticed an increase in their child’s motivation.
Over 200 surveyed parents said they appreciate the flexibility that comes with distance learning and students being able to learn at their own pace. Many parents also indicated they appreciate the district’s interest in keeping children safe and the offering school age child care for children of specified essential workers. Leland said parents overall talked about the district’s great teachers and staff.
“It was really fun reading all the different shout-outs to individual staff and administration,” Leland said.
Some parents commented that they had struggled with distance learning at the beginning but eventually found their groove, that they liked having more involvement with their children’s learning and approved of teachers’ response times. Parents had also commented that distance learning made them more appreciative of in-person learning.
Parents frequently expressed that distance learning had been time consuming for them and contributed to anxiety and more work duties. Some also noted disadvantages like a lack of social interactions for students, lower grades and disadvantages to parents who don’t understand English and technology.
Other concerns that were less common included the physical demands with screen time, lack of hands-on experiences, the need for free internet, and inconsistency with teacher expectations and methods.
In terms of what the district can improve about distance learning for the future, Leland said parents suggested homework help and social opportunities for students. It also came through “loud and clear” that parents prefer in-person learning to distance learning. Over and over again, Leland said parents commented, “You’re doing a great job.”
Other common suggestions follow the homework help theme of having reading tutors and small group work for students. Another suggestion was to help parents understand behavior strategies for students learning at home, and to offer extra help for non-English speaking families.
The survey asked parents if they want to continue distance learning this year or in the future. Results were mixed; 182 agreed they would continue distance learning this year, while 119 said they didn’t know, and 386 said they would not like to continue. Looking at the far future, 135 said they would continue, 335 said they wouldn’t continue, and 134 said they didn’t know.
Corcoran said online learning is the next step for the district, since distance learning was a part of Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order in response to the pandemic.
“I think this is a great opportunity to not only have flexible learning, but also investigate the hybrid approach and have more control over what that looks like,” Corcoran said.
According to the comments, Leland said parents generally want to put safety first for their families, and they have an interest in a hybrid or flexible learning option. Others expressed concerns about their children fostering friendships and said they would be more in support of distance learning if classes offered more supplies and hands-on activities.
“We had several hours, several days, many weeks went into the development of the survey, and really garnering the results,” Leland said. “We have our (English Learner paraprofessionals) and our cultural liaisons to thank; they spent many hours on this project to reach out to families.”
Board member Courtney Cavellier, who has children in the district, said the survey was one of the “more robust” she’s taken and appreciated the different questions and response styles. She also pointed out that no matter one’s experience with distance learning, the bottom line for many parents is, “I just want my kids back in school.”