Cherokee County schools have been back in session for about a month, and the learning options available are still a hot topic among parents and educators.
All Tahlequah Public Schools principals gave back-to-school reports for their sites during the Sept. 15 Board of Education meeting, and some were surprised at the number of students on the virtual learning path, as well as frustrated by the learning software.
Cherokee Elementary School Principal Marissa McCoy said during the meeting that having about 160 virtual students is more than she would have ever imagined.
"With the rigor of the virtual program, some parents were having a hard time helping their students at home," she said. "Some virtual students are coming back to the traditional side, which is best for them."
Cherokee Elementary students are expected to attend Zoom meetings at specific times, and if those are missed, school officials will contact the parents to see what assistance they may be needing.
"We know in our hearts virtual learning is not ideal for 5- and 6-year-olds. This is what we've been dealt and we're working through it," said McCoy. "Everyone's really stepped up to help each other. The SROs [school resource officers] and school-based social workers have been out. It's hard and exhausting, but it's going to work out."
The learning platforms for the middle and high schools are very different from the lower TPS grade levels, and that has been an issue for many.
Megan Beckham is an educator who has children learning virtually at Grand View Public School and TPS. They chose to do so in order to not to add to the community spread of COVID-19.
"My oldest is struggling with THS's chosen virtual platform, Edmentum, and its lack of teaching, and he is above average intelligence. I cannot imagine other students are experiencing success. Thankfully, THS let him change classes so that he wouldn't struggle through Spanish language without any actual teaching," said Beckham. "I wish TPS could have found a way to administer their courses virtually, but I understand they do not have the money to hire the teachers to oversee those courses. It is a hard year."
Tahlequah Middle School was also using Edmentum, but switched to Google Classrooms Sept. 21 due to how difficult the coursework and system was for most students.
Beckham said she understands how some families are getting frustrated and switching to statewide online charter schools, such as Epic or K12.
"While I do not recommend that because it takes funds away from our already severely underfunded brick-and-mortar public schools, I understand that not every home has two certified teachers to help facilitate online learning, and Epic has been doing this for a while," said Beckham. "Parents, regardless of where your child is going to school, please do not fear them falling behind. Everyone is enduring the same catastrophe. Teachers know how to pick up where children are and fill in the gaps. It is what we do."
Melissa Moore-Carriger had two students in virtual learning at Tahlequah High School, and she felt they didn't receive enough support, so they enrolled in Epic Charter Schools
"I have messaged the counselor on several occasions right before and after we got their virtual learning stuff to ask questions only to have received responses on any scheduling questions and everything else was left unanswered. I received absolutely no response even when I sent certain questions in an email by itself," said Moore-Carriger. "I tried really hard to keep them enrolled with Tahlequah school district, because so many people suggested it due to the school losing funding, but it turned out to not be the option for us."
She said that her 15-year-old daughter worked to do her best virtually through THS, but became really stressed and wasn't getting the help she needed when she asked. Her stress has been reduced since starting Epic two weeks ago, according to Moore-Carriger.
"Not all options are for everyone and I get that, however when communication lines are broken it makes it really hard to enjoy something," she said. "Learning should be fun and informative, not stressful and confusing."
She did have high praises for the Briggs Public School program.
"My 6 year old who goes to Briggs has a tremendous amount of support and I really love what they are doing," said Moore-Carriger. "She does a daily Zoom meeting where certain lessons are taught. Her teacher is very responsive with any questions I have. And she really enjoys learning on all the different platforms they are teaching her on."
Parent Lisa Snell said the virtual learning situation takes some patience on both sides of the laptop, and she is using extra learning methods.
"It's a challenge but we're getting it figured out," said Snell. "I bought some workbooks for some extra practice, and when I have to take my son to work with me, we use the workbooks."
Kristin Stark, principal at Sequoyah Pre-K Center, said they had 37 of the 147 students attending virtually. The school does not have one-on-one technology, so they rely on paper packets.
"The virtual teachers are making some online videos for those who have devices," said Stark. "It's gone pretty well, but we've struggled with parents checking in with teachers or sending in completed work."