By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Herald Journal
NEWKIRK — Newkirk Public schools (NPS) will be closed for the remainder of the school year to protect students, faculty and staff from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the school has now unveiled a new plan to allow students to continue distance learning through the duration of the school year to finish classes and be ready to move to the next grade level in August.
NPS was closed March 16 – 20 for Spring Break, and planned to resume classes March 23. Due to the pandemic, the Oklahoma State Board of Education voted to close all school districts in the state until April 6, and on March 25, opted to keep schools closed through the school year.
“We are encouraging people to follow the orders of the Centers for Disease Control and Oklahoma State Department of Health in staying home,” said Superintendent Brady Barnes. “We have nine weeks of school left, and we’re going to follow the framework and format from the Oklahoma State Education Department to provide an education for our kids, to ensure their safety in this situation, and all faculty and staff.”
The distance learning measure has forced many public schools, including NPS, to find a way to continue educating the students, online and away from school campus. NPS faculty and staff conducted meetings on March 27 to lay out details on how to best continue educating the students form home.
“For the remainder of the school year, the faculty and principals have to practice social distancing,” Barnes said. “We’re using Google Meets and Zoom to conduct those meetings with the principals and teachers.”
Newkirk High School and Middle school are taking advantage of Google Classroom for remote learning, along with Google Chromebooks to learn from home, technology they are already integrated into the classroom.
“Our patrons supported a bond issue to get technology money to allow us to get Chromebook, so we’ve been utilizing Google Classroom already,” said NHS Principal Kevin Engle.
Google Classroom is an online platform that allows teachers to be able to upload resources, such as homework assignments, tests, videos and other programs for students who may have missed classes, such as through student activities or absences. Google Classroom can be used on any smart device, as well as desktop and laptop computer.
“Now, we’re utilizing for students who are at home,” Engle said.
In addition to Google Classroom, NMS is also taking advantage of a secondary program, IXL Learning.
“They’ll be able to embed YouTube videos in the classroom. They’ll come up with a number of different resources,” NMS Principal Jeff Wilson said. “They can put a worksheet ads a .pdf and upload it to Google Classroom.”
The problem will be getting the technology into the hands of the students, a problem which NPS has already addressed.
Many students have some form of smart technology, such as a phone or tablet that can access the Internet, and also have Internet access at home. For those who lack devices, Chromebooks may be checked out to the students.
“At NMS, we have one set of Chromebooks for seventh graders, and one set for eighth graders. We’d like them to contact Karen Focke and we’ll check them out a Chromebook,” Wilson said.
NHS also has Chromebooks for students lacking smart devices.
“We’re utilizing Chromebooks for students who are at home,” Engle said. “We are going to checkout Chromebooks for students who don’t have digital devices at home.”
Internet access also may be a problem for some students, a situation NPS is rectifying.
The NHS and NMS parking lots will serve as a Wi-Fi hot spot, and other Wi-Fi hot spots have been identified. For a full list, visit the NHS Web site, www.Newkirk.k12.ok.usor the NHS Facebook page.
“We are outfitting two buses to allow all students in rural areas access Wi-Fi.,” Engle said.
Students also will be able to have video conferences with teachers for one-on-one education. Google Meets and Hangouts will be used for connecting with teachers.
“There’ll be a Google Meets once a week, per subject,” Engle said. “Our teachers are available from 9 a.m. to Noon, Monday through Friday through Google Hangouts. “Our teachers are scheduling Google Meet chats as a video conference to ask questions.
On Google Classroom, there is a chat option, so kids will be discussing the subject on the message boards as well.”
“There’ll be multiple ways for communication,” he added.
Much of the education at Newkirk Elementary School has already finished, so most of the elementary students will simply review what they learned throughout the school year, in what Newkirk Elementary School Principal Pam Hunter refers to as ‘spiral review.’
“By this time of year, we’ve taught about 90 to 95 percent of our standards, so the last quarter is getting the kids to solidify that learning, and getting kids more fluent with reading and math,” Hunter said. “Spiral review is to go back and review what they learned so far this year.”
Much of the learning will be on an online platform, so for students lacking smart devices or Internet access, packets will be sent home for an alternative review.
“Not all of our students have access to the Internet or a device they work on, so parents have been given a choice of digital or paper and pencil format,” Hunter said. “Right now, we’re looking at a third of our students who are going to go the paper and pencil route, which tells us how many of our students don’t have Internet access at home.”
As with NHS and NMS, parents and students will still have communication to with the teachers.
“Teachers will make contact, either on video or by phone, at least weekly,” Hunter said. “Teachers will have some time during the day set aside, like 20 minutes, three times a day, where the teachers won’t schedule a video chat or phone call with a student. They are free and available to the parents to contact for help.
It is believed that the remote learning program will be successful, and serve as a model for the future, when schools may need to shut down, such as another pandemic or inclement weather like a heavy snow storm.
“I think it’s going to be a huge success,” Engle said. “I’m excited to showcase the program, and I think it is going to help the students and teachers fully utilize the system that we have.”