WHITLEY COUNTY -- While some schools have since returned to in-person classes, the continued rise in COVID-19 cases has kept Whitley County Schools out of school and instead sticking with virtual learning, impacting students, teachers and parents alike.
Though many area schools have returned to in-person classes at some point in the school year, Whitley County Schools have yet to return to in-person this school year as COVID-19 case numbers have continued to climb.
"Because of what we had dealt in March of last school year, we knew going into this school year that there was every possibility that we would be doing online/virtual instruction," said Whitley County Superintendent John Siler.
Siler said that he and district staff worked over the summer to prepare for the possibility of continuing online instruction, including training teachers on better use of virtual learning.
"That is not to say that we do not have any issues," he said. "Teaching using technology is a challenge for the teacher and the student because we all know that when technology works it is great but when it isn't working correctly, for whatever reason, it is very frustrating. I think our teachers are really trying to make online instruction as effective as it can be but they readily acknowledge that it is not the way they would prefer to teach."
Siler said he has received mixed feedback from teachers about how they feel their students are handling online instruction but the overall consensus is that students have adapted well to virtual learning.
"They are keeping up with assignments, logging on for Zoom sessions and contacting their teachers when they need extra help," he said. "There are others who seem to really be struggling with learning using an online platform. Sometimes it is a case of poor internet connectivity. Other times it is that the child needs the in-person attention of the teacher. For this reason, we started doing small group targeted instruction with students who need to sit down with their teachers. Students who needed to come in to the schools were able to make appointments with the teachers. By keeping the numbers very low it provides the teacher time to focus on the needs of the student and allows the teacher to keep kids socially distanced and safe."
One of the main concerns that both parents and teachers seem to have is that their students will be behind once they are able to return to in-person classes.
"I think the fear of students being behind after this pandemic is over is a national concern," Siler said. "We will be testing students to monitor progress and will have to adapt our teaching to meet the needs of our students when things go back to normal. Right now, our small group instruction that is being offered is an attempt to keep students from falling too far behind."
While many parents agree with the school district's decision to continue online instruction, there are many parents who feel it is doing more harm than good for their child's education.
Every week, when the Whitley County Schools Facebook page posts that they will be continuing with online instruction for the following week, several comment to state their displeasure with the decision, stating that their students aren't adapting well to online instruction. Parents also have voiced their concern as they are having to change their own work schedules or look for child care as their children because of the decision, like Joleen Knuckles who has children in second and ninth grade in the Whitley County Schools system.
Knuckles has had to leave work early or take off an entire day of work to help her children finish their schoolwork, as well as pick up or drop off NTI packets to the schools. She also said both her children are struggling with online instruction.
"Both my kids learn better in person," she said. "Both have no motivation to continue.
"My kids are ready to go back to in-person learning," she added. "They miss the hands-on and socialization with their friends. Anxiety has went up for my household!"
Siler said he has heard the concerns of both parents and teachers and believes that there are some things teachers, parents and students can all do to hopefully make virtual learning easier on everyone.
"Patience and understanding on all of our parts will go a long way in getting through what are inarguably difficult times," he said. "There are so many concerns when it comes to our kids and doing what is best for them. I don't think anyone has found a solution that would be agreeable to everyone. My hope in our school district is that our school employees, students and their families are communicating with each other. If there are issues or concerns, those need to be shared so they can be addressed. While the solutions to our problems may not be what any of us would prefer under normal circumstances, these are not normal circumstances. Still, we have to keep trying to do what is best for kids and right now that is going to come with some difficulties. Let's keep talking to each other and looking for ways to address our students' needs the best way we can in light of our current situation."