In hopes of reaching students who found success learning virtually last school year, the Goodhue County Education District is launching an online learning option for students in member districts.

GCED and its six member districts — Cannon Falls, Goodhue, Kenyon-Wanamingo, Lake City, Red Wing and Zumbrota-Mazeppa — are collaborating on 5RiversOnline for the 2021-22 school year to offer both live instruction and independent work to students in grades K-12 living in one of the districts.

5RiversOnline curriculum is aligned to meet Minnesota standards, with Minnesota licensed teachers. The services provided are like those traditionally available at physical school buildings, like with social workers, psychologists, English language learning, special education.

Students in kindergarten through sixth grade will participate in daily synchronous learning with teacher and learner interaction along with peer-to-peer interaction. Learners are expected to complete daily learning activities and they may need to log in for interventions in reading and/or math as needed.

At the elementary level, more live time is provided with a teacher than other online programs. Teachers launch lessons live with students beginning with a morning meeting, have daily check-ins and meet with other students throughout the school day. Specialist teachers provide direct instruction in physical education, music and art.

Advisory and advisory cohorts connect learners in grades seven through 12 with an advisor and peers in two-year bands: grades 7-8, grades 9-10 and grades 11-12. These learners will meet virtually on a weekly basis one-on-one with an advisor and with advisory cohorts (grades 7-8 meet daily and grades 9-12 meet weekly). Junior high/high school students will be expected to log into each class with workday flexibility.

Hired and trained by local districts, secondary teachers use their expertise to enhance the online curriculum. Cory said they are skilled at building relationships with students and ensure that parents/guardians are involved to support their students’ learning.

The online site states 5RiversOnline learners are expected to be engaged in active learning for at least six hours a day. With the exception of certain scheduled meetings, lessons or school events, learners have the flexibility to design an asynchronous schedule that works for them.

Additional benefits

School Board member Kevin Anderson, who is also a GCED-Education District committee member, told the board at its last regular meeting that educators have become aware that virtual learning works best for some families and students. He explained K-W briefly took a look at developing an online school about 15 years ago, but ultimately didn’t pursue the idea. Looking to the future, Anderson told board members they need to be progressive and ready to move as things continue to change.

While learning online was found to be a struggle for some students, Anderson said it’s a learning style of the district has to offer to other students who can benefit from it. He also noted some positives: students stay in the district and participate in extracurricular activities if desired, while the district still receives state aid for the enrolled students.

Superintendent Brian Boysen added that the biggest catalyst for this idea was hearing the same thing from teachers throughout the state about teaching during the pandemic — juggling students in the classroom and online at the same time was very challenging and stressful.

Cory is uncertain what the cost to participate will be for K-W, as that is dependent on how many teachers will be needed and how many students attend. The cost would be calculated based on the number of students each district has enrolled.

“It’s all in the black,” Cory told the board during their work session. “5Rivers can only go in the red if no one enrolls.”

So far, Cory said 20 students are enrolled, with a small portion from K-W.

Board member Marilyn Syverson said this online academy gives open enrollment a real challenge, as its created a lot of tax dollar problems in districts. Since the money still stays within the student’s home district, unlike other virtual academies, if students are having issues with in-person learning, they can be directed to 5Rivers.

Boysen added his expectation is that all students will appear in person at school the day after Labor Day. Boysen said families that have already or previously identified they will have their child learn virtually if mask mandates return will be given the option to enroll in 5RiversOnline.

Reach reporter Michelle Vlasak at 507-333-3128 or follow her on Twitter @apgmichelle. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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