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‘For us it works’: More than half of Carroll County Public Schools students learning fully virtually; Boys & Girls Club helping about 100

Hybrid may be in session but virtual learning still plays a key part in today’s schooling.

More than half of Carroll County Public Schools parents have kept their students fully online even after the school system resumed hybrid learning, which means attending classes in-person twice a week. Others depend on programs like the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster to assist with virtual learning twice a week when their student is not inside the classroom.

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Erin Bishop, marking director of the Boys & Girls Club, said although schools have opened back up for many, her organization still has about 100 kids each week using their services.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the club can host no more than 78 kids at a time for health and safety reasons. Bishop said they have about 40 to 50 kids attending the facility each day to utilize their services, or about 100 each week.

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The program is available to all kids in the county but Bishop said they try to prioritize those with the highest level of needs, like those who are homeless, students who need extra support and children of first responders, for example.

“We’re working really closely with Carroll County Public Schools so we know who needs extra support,” she said.

When the Carroll County Board of Education voted to return to hybrid learning in January, parents once again had the option to send students to the classroom twice a week while learning from home the other three days, or to remain fully virtual.

Robert Moton Elementary School third-grader Aubree Pozzoli, left, and first-grader Harry Zepp work remotely at their laptops in the Maker Space at the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster on the first day of school Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.
Robert Moton Elementary School third-grader Aubree Pozzoli, left, and first-grader Harry Zepp work remotely at their laptops in the Maker Space at the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster on the first day of school Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. (Dylan Slagle)

Bishop said they try to prioritize elementary school students a little more since at that age the students cannot stay home by themselves. However, the Boys & Girls Club also restarted its teen nights every other Friday that bring in over 30 teenagers.

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Westminster’s Boys & Girls Club have yet to have COVID-19 cases in its facility, Bishop said, and is the only Maryland Club that has not had to close since its reopening. It’s a credit to staff and families, she said.

The facility reopened in the summer after pandemic protocols closed them down like many other establishments. They have eight full-time staff members and 12 who work part-time. They are not teachers but they do help watch over the kids and assist with schoolwork after the club became a site for online learning. Grants allowed them to provide a computer for every student and extra computers are available at the building.

Continuing to follow coronavirus protocols has caused the water bill to triple, Bishop said. But it makes sense. Kids went from washing their hands only a couple times a day to 10 or 12 times a day, she said.

Bishop said the Boys & Girls Club created a virtual platform called Clubhouse at Your House and partnered with the school system to make the program available to all schools free of charge. It allows kids to be connected to the club even if they are not in the building. More specifically, it offers diverse programs and activities, academic support, live programming and allows users to stay connected with Boys & Girls Club staff.

“That partnership is taking on a whole other level of support,” Jason Anderson, chief academics, equity and accountability officer for CCPS, said, adding that he’s confident students are in good hands with the Boys & Girls Club.

Anderson said the school system has had a partnership with the Boys & Girls Club for years but it enhanced about a year ago when the two parties made sure they were on the same page academically so students could continue to learn and receive support with their classwork after school.

With the second semester now starting Wednesday, Feb. 3, after Tuesday’s snow day, Anderson said about 45% of the student population is taking advantage of the hybrid model while the rest have chosen to remain fully virtual. Students have the option of switching from one model to the other at any point, although they are asked to give their school prior notice.

Brothers Messiah, 6, left, and Isaiah Rodriguez, 8, both students at William WInchester Elementary School, work remotely in the art room at the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster on the first day of school Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.
Brothers Messiah, 6, left, and Isaiah Rodriguez, 8, both students at William WInchester Elementary School, work remotely in the art room at the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster on the first day of school Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. (Dylan Slagle)

Desireé Luna of Hampstead is taking advantage of the virtual model. She said her fifth-grader has excelled in virtual learning this school year and prefers it over hybrid.

“For us, it works,” she said.

Luna said her son wears glasses and has a hearing aid. An unsuccessful test trial for wearing a mask for 30 minutes while not touching his face played a part in the family’s decision to stay home during school.

She added that her son was “already having a tough time in school with trying to feel like he could participate.” By the time hybrid was offered in the fall, she was skeptical about sending him back and the perspectives from parents and teachers made her feel uneasy about him being in the classroom.

She made the call to stay virtual “then watched him flourish.” His grades went from B’s and C’s to straight A’s, she said. He was able to focus more and confidently participates in class.

Luna acknowledged that her ability to work from home makes virtual learning possible and credits part of her son’s success to his teachers. She said “it’s amazing” they can teach and also provide extra support.

“I know my son’s teachers are going above and beyond to make sure they’re getting the tools that they need,” she said.

She said her nephews are in the English as a Second Language, which also has dedicated staff in the department that goes above and beyond for its students.

Luna started a Facebook Group called “CCPS 100% Virtual Learning-Support and Discussion Group” in September that has over 200 members. It’s a hub for parents who also support virtual learning and Luna said she tries to keep it uplifting and post resources helpful to parents.

“I also make sure we post about Gov. [Larry] Hogan whenever there’s an update and news,” she said.

Luna said she hopes virtual learning can continue when the pandemic is over.

Gregg Bricca, director of virtual learning at CCPS, said the school system always had a virtual learning platform for middle and high school students even before the pandemic.

“We’re exploring expanding those options for next year,” Bricca said, adding that it depends on the school budget.

The school’s website states virtual learning was generally offered under “exceptional circumstance” that prevent face-to-face instruction. Reasons for granting virtual learning to a student pre-pandemic were if the school did not offer a course, if the student had a schedule conflict or if a teacher recommended it.

Virtual courses before the pandemic took place at the same school and successful students were expected to be self-motivated to direct their own learning, self-disciplined to maintain course engagement, confident to ask for help, able to work independently and had strong time management skills, according to the CCPS website.

The school system began the year fully virtual, went to hybrid on Oct. 19 for about a month before returning to virtual when the number of COVID-19 cases in Carroll County went up and then returned to hybrid on Jan. 7.

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