North Clarion goes remote

By Ryan S. Pugh

CLARION NEWS Sports Editor


Challenging is probably the best word to describe area school districts dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and the North Clarion school district is no different.

The district's elementary school will be on remote learning until Dec. 1 while the high school was put on remote learning until at least Nov. 17. At press time, the district was planning on reevaluating whether the high school could return to in-person learning by Nov. 17.

Clarion County was moved into the ‘substantial' COVID-19 infection rate on the week of Nov. 9 by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The Pennsylvania Department of Education recommends school districts go to fully remote learning if the district's home county stays in the substantial range for two weeks or more. In addition, North Clarion had six positive cases (five in the high school and one in the elementary school).

There are many issues the district faces in going to remote learning for an extended period of time. One of the largest hurdles facing North Clarion is its teachers incorporating a solid teaching foundation using Google Classroom.

"This is not the best way to educate our kids so our goal is to get kids back (to in-person learning) five days a week," North Clarion Principal Ed Baumcratz said during the board's Zoom meeting held Nov. 9. "We are doing what we can. I think our teachers are doing a great job."

Baumcratz stated that 72-percent of the students were taking part in live classes via Google Classroom.

Another challenge the North Clarion district faces is a lack of reliable internet in some communities. The district has a variety of hot spots set up around the community for students and parents to download assignments. There is also an effort to identify families who do not have internet and install hot spots at their houses.

Baumcratz stated the high school is doing everything necessary to ensure students are engaged in the North Clarion virtual learning process.

"We are reaching out to parents and families of students who are not logging in (to Google Classroom)," Baumcratz said. "We are doing what we can to get the kids logged in and get their work completed."

Baumcratz would prefer students would attend classes live whenever possible but he realizes there are valid reasons why students can't attend live classes such as slow or non-existent internet.

The district is also going to have USB thumb drives with the assignments on them distributed to students who don't have reliable internet. Baumcratz said they had thought about sending paper packets of assignments home with students but in the past high school students did not return the paper packets in a timely fashion.

School board Vice President Jeff Barron asked Baumcratz about how attendance was handled. Baumcratz informed Lutz that he told parents and students who are not able to attend the live Google Classroom classes they have to let the teachers know they will be absent. And the student would view the video and complete the assignment later in the day to be given credit for attendance.

Also challenging for Baumcratz and the high school faculty is evaluation of students through testing.

"How do you hold a test on Google Classroom?" Baumcratz asked rhetorically. "Some of the teachers are trying to have their kids tilt their screens down and have the teachers watch the kids take the test and the students then show them the answers. We are trying a lot of different things; there is just not a great way to test our kids through Google Classroom."

Originally, the North Clarion School District was going to use Edgenuity for its remote learning program but went away from the service due to poor video quality.

At the elementary school level, teachers are recording for Google Classroom and the students can watch the lessons in the evening. The reason the elementary school is not going with live Google Classroom is because many children wouldn't have access to the internet during the day especially if their parents work.

Moreover, students in kindergarten, first and second grade were distributed materials to take home to complete assignments. According to Hastings, it is a challenge for students in the primary grade levels to complete fully digital assignments.