Northfield Area Learning Center Director Daryl Kehler said staff outreach to students made during a difficult stretch of distance learning last spring resulted in higher attendance levels this fall and possibly a more successful outcome in the coming weeks as students again learn remotely.
Kehler, who made the remarks during a Nov. 23 School Board meeting, said ALC students were engaged and completing work when learning in-person during the last part of the 2019-20 school year but struggled to maintain that level of engagement during distance learning. He cited the following:
65% to 70% in-person credit completion
57% credit completion with a hybrid format of distance and in-person instruction.
35% credit completion with exclusively distance learning.
The ALC traditionally offers students an alternative way to complete high school, learning in a more individualized and needs-catered setting. Many of the students are working to finish high school while working full or part-time, with an emotional or behavioral diagnosis, with troubles outside of school or children of their own.
Kehler said as the school realized students were struggling, the ALC shifted its approach from emphasizing credit retention to use technology to focus on building staff-student relationships.
The ALC is aiming for students to reach the consistent attendance of 90% during this school year. In the first grading period, that percentage was 92.27%. To build the school’s sense of community while observing social distancing guidelines this fall, ALC staff has held a socially distanced picnic and Halloween party.
“It did pay off,” Kehler said.
Kehler said teachers had little experience using online learning platforms last spring but has since developed a greater understanding of the format. Students previously had minimal background in how to log into FaceTime and Zoom, making those programs difficult to use. The ALC has ensured that all students who need technological devices have received them.
Northfield Public Schools has shifted the entire district to distance learning through at least winter break as COVID-19 cases continue to rapidly increase within Rice County and dozens of staff have been away from work due to COVID-19 exposure.
Currently, the ALC is limited to having 12 people within the Longfellow School building at a time. However, Kehler hopes some students will still be able to utilize in-person lessons because of the benefits of doing so.
“In-person is incredibly valuable,” Kehler said.
Hillmann: Multiple systems of support used to help students
Credit retention during distance learning last spring weren’t limited to the ALC. More than 100 Northfield seventh and eighth graders failed at least one course during last spring’s distance learning period. Students of color accounted for nearly 50% of failing grades.
Middle School Principal Greg Gelineau has announced the school plans to have conferences with at least 75% of families twice during this school year. Also, Middle School staff is expected to participate in anti-racist work at least once a quarter during the school year.
Superintendent Matt Hillmann noted the district has learned how to support struggling learners through the Multi-Tiered System of Supports program. The initiative, intended to prevent failing grades, offers assessments, evidence-based instruction, core instruction, supplemental interventions and decisions based on data from the Minnesota Department of Education.
Hillmann added the district placed a particular focus on helping individual students last spring. However, staff later discovered several cases in which students in the same family were struggling during distance learning, providing staff a blueprint of how to help students more efficiently, effectively basis. He added that teachers created minimal posting standards for students and is reaching out to students who fail to do so.