School districts transition to distance learning

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WASHAKIE COUNTY – Both Worland and Ten Sleep are beginning their transitions toward an online curriculum to accommodate social distancing guidelines that required schools to be shut down due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) which led to the school districts closing their doors on Monday, March 16 and Tuesday, March 17, respectfully.

The order to close the schools came from a recommendation made by Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon after the first cases of the virus were confirmed in Wyoming less than a week prior. The decisions made by the schools to close has led teachers and administrators to work together to figure out a plan to help continue teaching the youth of the community without interacting with them in person.

With no events or basis to go off of from history after such a historical rise of a global pandemic, schools have had a difficult time finding a way to ensure that students are able to reach their teachers and interact without having network issues.

If you are a kindergartener through second-grader in either district technology will not be a large concern, as teachers in each district are sending out curriculum in packets in Worland along with iPads and Chromebooks at East Side and South Side in Worland.

Ten Sleep is opting to not use any technology with students below third grade and packets are being delivered daily for students to work on.

There are many challenges that have come from transitioning to an online setting according to superintendents David Nicholas (District No. 1) and Jimmy Phelps (District No. 2). One of the main transitions has been ensuring access to internet services in rural areas in the county, obtaining appropriate technology to do a Zoom meeting or coursework with a teacher, as well as coordinating times for students to meet with teachers or do coursework so that the servers for Google Classroom and Zoom are not overloaded.

According to Nicholas, one of the difficult scenarios they have run into at first is the overloading of servers that have not allowed students to access Zoom at specific times, which is a problem that Washakie County School District No. 1 is planning to address during this initial week of online schooling as this is expected to go through April 17, but may get extended through the end of April if the governor decides to extend his orders to match the current federal guidelines regarding social distancing.

According to Phelps, Ten Sleep is taking a slightly different course to tackle overflowing the servers so that students can get on at the times they are able to and communicate with their teachers effectively. Phelps and his staff are planning to stagger instruction throughout the day in order to not overwhelm the system or teachers and still be able to help each student, which may be easier to accomplish with a smaller school populous.

In order to help students who do not have internet access, Ten Sleep school has been working with TCT in order to help offer a couple months of free access through a trial, with the school offering to pay for installation required for the services. Ten Sleep also ordered more Chromebooks in order to ensure each student from third grade and above had a laptop to complete work, regardless of whether they already had a device or not.

Special education students will each still have their own curriculum.

According to both superintendents, both districts will continue to pay employees part time and full time throughout this process, and lunches will still be provided for pick-up as long as school is still in session.

“We would ask for everyone’s patience,” Nicholas said. “If there are any questions contact the building’s principal and we will do our best to make sure the kids are hooked up and served in the best way we can.”

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