Montevideo schools return to hybrid learning model

Danae Milbrandt
The Montevideo School District returned to an all hybrid model this week. Students returned to classrooms on Monday.

As of Monday, Nov. 9, the Montevideo School District once again entered a hybrid model of learning for the 2020-2021 school year.

According to Superintendent Dr. Luther Heller, after the initial approval to move into the hybrid model, the rise in COVID cases in Chippewa County increased significantly, so the district voluntarily moved into distance learning for two weeks.

“As we got to the end of those two weeks we took a look at the numbers, both within the community and the school district itself, which had lowered, and we had asked agencies if we would be supported in returning to a hybrid learning model,” said Heller.

Both Countryside Public Health and the Regional Support Team were in support of the move back into the hybrid model, but according to Heller, with the caveat that they would keep a close eye on the numbers, as they were somewhat high in the county at that point in time.

“We were one of the higher ones in the state,” Heller said, “but one of the things people need to remember is that while the number of cases per 10,000 was really pushed hard by the state for us to look at determining where we started, later in the fall the state said that no longer was that rubric the most important thing for us to look at.”

Heller continued, explaining that what the district needed to do at that point was not only look at that, but also look at how it was impacting the school community. For example, within a community there may be one school moved into distance learning due to the virus activity within that building, whereas other schools in the community may not be in that type of learning model.

“We would much prefer to get into one model and remain there,” he said. “And our goal is to have that model be something where the students and the teachers are in-school, having face-to-face interaction.”

He added that the district would like to avoid jumping back and forth too much, which is why they entered distance learning for two weeks, giving the district an incubation period that brought down COVID numbers within the school community.

According to Scott Hickey, principal of Montevideo High School, through the changes between distance and hybrid learning, about two-thirds of the students are performing as they normally would.

“And that’s a good thing!” he said. “Of the remaining one-third, we have some students that are struggling a little more than they would normally, some that are struggling a lot more then they would normally, and unfortunately we do have some students that struggle regardless of what learning model we might be in.”

The COVID pandemic has not made things easy for students and staff alike, and Hickey added that overall, the school is seeing more students missing work and more students that are struggling academically than it would in a normal year.

“We do have a number of students that struggle with distance or hybrid learning for a multitude of reasons,” he explained. “In hybrid we are able to have students that need more support come in more often if they need one-on-one support, or someone to make sure they do their work. We are able to see our students regularly, and support them as we normally would. In fact, we have also created a new hybrid model that will allow our students to come to school more often during hybrid learning.”

Hickey continued, explaining that distance learning is the hardest learning model for student work completion, as there is only so much that teachers can do from a distance.

“We contact parents regularly, and even make house visits, but we can’t go into a home and make a student do their work,” he said. “We have little recourse if a student refuses to do their work, or a parent is unable to help/motivate their student to complete their work.”

According to Hickey, the state has now made it possible that, during distance learning, schools are able to have students that are struggling go to the building in limited numbers for one-on-one support; therefore, in the event of another shift to distance learning, it will be helpful to those students.

Hickey acknowledges that it’s better, educationally, to have students in the building as much as possible.

“That’s why,” he said, “in a regular year, we run school the way that we do. However, we all know that this is not a regular year. There is a balance between keeping our students and staff, and ultimately the community as a whole, as safe as we possibly can, and providing the best education that we can to our students. Sure, we could have all of our students back in our schools at one time, and it might be better for the short-term as far as students having daily face-to-face contact with their teachers.”

He then said that, however, it would only be a matter of time before many students and staff were quarantined due to being in close contact with an infected individual, which would impact the students ability to learn if they were once again out of school, and if a staff member were to be out, that would impact all of their classes. In large numbers, that could impact the ability to provide education in any learning model.

“That’s just the logistical concerns!” he said.

“Without social distancing during this pandemic, we would put many people at risk. I think we are all aware of those risks, so I don’t need to explain that. Right now, just like every other part of our society, we have to balance between providing the best educational opportunities that we can, and keeping people as safe as we can.”

Hickey believes that the district is providing the best educational opportunities that it can, and keeping people as safe as it can.

“I believe that we are providing a high-quality education to our students in any learning model we might be in,” he said. “We all want the same thing, and that is to have our students back in school as soon as we can. We just need to make sure we are doing that as safely as we can, wo when this thing finally comes to an end, that we are all around to enjoy it and resume our normal lives on the other side.”