FOXBURG - A-C Valley principals April 20 provided updates to school board members on the progress of "distance learning" undergone at the elementary and high schools since their closures for the remainder of the academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During her report, elementary principal Lori Sherman said the district's institution of enrichment-based instruction continues to include a multitude of online and hard copy resources for students to utilize.

Additionally, over 200 Chromebook laptops have been assigned to students, with more expected to be provided as requested by students.

While the enrichment approach dictates participation by students is not mandatory, Sherman said a large majority of students have logged in at some point since distance learning began April 8.

"The enrollment goes anywhere from 78 percent to 86 percent of an entire class," said Sherman, adding roughly 24 families have picked up hard copy packets due to unreliable internet access.

Sherman said she has requested teachers provide feedback on the program's effectiveness thus far, focusing specifically on student participation, quality of work, and struggles or successes students may be having.

Sherman said for kindergarten through second grade students, a crucial factor in continued education relates to parents of students taking part as much as possible.

"The participation is heavily dependent on parent involvement or their ability to be involved," said Sherman. "It's not always necessarily that they don't want to be, It's just whatever is going on in their households at this time makes it a bit trickier for them."

Teachers have often held online meetings with students for educational purposes and to work on enrichment-based activities, but not every time.

"Sometimes it's just social, because the kids are really missing that connection with their teachers and their classmates," said Sherman.

When it comes to strengths associated with the move to distance learning, teachers have seen an increase in teamwork between students.

"The collaboration factor has been higher in this platform than it may be in the traditional classroom setting, where sometimes students tend to do their own thing in the classroom and not reach out as much," Sherman said. "Because this is new for pretty much everybody, they had to have that collaboration to make it work."

Although it may have become necessary because of school closures, Sherman said teachers have also reported an unseen benefit relating to a rise in communication and engagement with parents through the new platform.

"Those parents have been overall supportive of the teachers and their efforts, so I think that communication between home and school improving is a very good thing for all of this.

Sherman noted a handful of staff members were initially worried about transitioning instruction to a Google Classroom format. But after learning more about the program, teachers have found ways to incorporate it further when students are able to return to traditional class settings.

"Learning on the fly has forced us to have some flexibility to learn from our mistakes and grow from them," Sherman said.

High school principal Bill Jordan echoed much of Sherman's sentiments.

"It's very similar at the high school as far as rolling out our educational continuity plan," Jordan said, praising teachers for their level of communication since the onset of the transition.

"If you see one of the teachers, thank them and let them know you're behind them and you support them in their efforts," Jordan said.

Jordan reported the amount of participation among high school students is at around 50 percent in most classes, with the quality of work handed in being considered excellent so far.

"We're going to see if we can try a few things to boost that participation percentage a little bit," Jordan said. "We're going to try to communicate a little better to get kids to log on and get engaged in that curriculum."

Shifting beyond education, Jordan said the status of high school athletics this fall is still up in the air, and school districts continue to await further direction from state officials on how/when sports might proceed.

The PIAA canceled winter championships and all spring sports for the rest of the school year April 9.

"No decision will be made until at least probably August 1," Jordan said, noting the first official practices dates for fall sports occur around the middle of the month.

Jordan continued, "We should have some guidance by then. (PIAA) wanted to make sure we all know until that time, there should be no practices, scrimmages, or informal get-togethers and to follow strict social distancing guidelines."