One thing was made abundantly clear at this week’s school board meeting.
Among other modifications to distance learning, the South Pasadena Unified School District is going to have to find a way to factor in wellness days or periods into the schedule. A cascade of solicited public comments before the discussion included students, parents and even teachers urging the district to find a way to implement these windows of time to help alleviate the anxieties and time constraints created by distance learning.
“We really are committed to the mental health and the social and emotional well-being of our students,” school board President Michele Kipke said Tuesday night. “We recognize that none of this is what it should be. It pains me to hear the stories of students who are suffering for so many reasons. We are absolutely working on trying to be creative in thinking about a range of different strategies that we might employ to get kids off the computer, get them off of the screen and to support their health and well-being.”
Kipke added that the board of education is not bound strictly to the adopted plans to begin the year. That is to say, they anticipated having to make alterations periodically.
“We are not rigid,” she said. “We absolutely have a tolerance for thinking about mid-course corrections. We absolutely want to be thinking creatively about strategies to support our students and teachers and we absolutely are considering a range of different strategies that might result in structural changes to our schedule.”
One issue presented by a number of students was just the general monotony of being home, often by themselves, all day staring at back-to-back lessons on a computer screen, with little direct interaction with peers if at all.
“Being able to use those 80 minutes in ways that are not 100% lecture — being able to have flipped classrooms, having a reading assignment from a text and then reconvening to have a classroom discussion, or things like that — could really go a long way to alleviate some Zoom fatigue,” board member Ruby Kalra said. “It’s the monotony of the day. We’re not getting variety. The fires certainly added to everyone’s mental state, of that monotony, not being able to get out of the house, not being able to get fresh air. Whatever movement we can do to add variety, I have to applaud.”
Kalra added that, in talking with colleagues at other districts, some disparities have presented themselves between synchronous learning — active lessons occurring simultaneously for entire classes — and asynchronous learning —when students are typically working on their own with a prepared lesson. In particular, Kalra said, student attendance rates tend to fluctuate greatly between the two lesson types, sometimes by as much as 20%.
That percent represents “hundreds” of students in SPUSD, board member Zahir Robb pointed out.
“In many cases, I’m sure that would be our most vulnerable populations,” he added. “That learning loss will be hard to make up, not only this year but long term. These are foundational gaps that will build over time. When we talk about achievement gaps that currently exist, where do those students go when those drop-offs are there?”