Canal Winchester students, teachers and staff members are continuing to hone their skills in the new normal of distance learning.

And the future holds more of the same, thanks to Gov. Mike DeWine's order to keep all Ohio schools closed for the remainder of the academic year.

"As far as education goes for our kids, we'll continue with our online learning," Superintendent James Sotlar said. "Our teachers are doing their best to determine the skills and content that can be reasonably accomplished during this time period, and they're trying to decide only meaningful tasks to determine evidence of learning. It's not very easy to do when we're doing online learning, especially at the younger levels."

However, Sotlar said, Canal Winchester teachers "are actually going above and beyond, which is awesome."

Relying heavily on platforms, such as Google Classroom, Google Hangout, Canvas and Zoom, the district has taken advantage of the unique situation to engage students in a handful of inventive methods.

At the lower grade levels, students have connected with teachers by participating in office hours, online reading sessions and even virtual scavenger hunts. According to Assistant Superintendent Kiya Hunt, these students already had some familiarity with online learning, which has provided them with a solid foundation as they expand their use of online platforms.

"Many (middle school) students are familiar with online learning in some capacity, so this just takes it to a higher level than what they are already familiar with," she said.

Hunt said one creative project for the Indian Trail Elementary School science curriculum aims to teach students about plant biology, so first-grade teacher Marti Laihr planted seeds throughout her home, in areas that receive different amounts of sunlight.

Students are able to see via videoconference how each plant is growing.

Canal Winchester Middle School students are using an online application called FlipGrid, a tool that helps classrooms use video, to create 90-second commercials for books they've been assigned to read.

"In just over a week, students have had 11 hours and 59 minutes of engagement time with this activity," she said. "This has made reading accountability so much fun.".

Virtual learning at Canal Winchester High School includes a project assigned by science teacher Doug Harmon, who asked students in his Human Body Systems class to create 3D models of the urinary system using items found around their homes.

"The results from the students have so far been amazing," Hunt said.

Teachers at the high school also are providing office hours and one-on-one video chats for students seeking extra help, she said.

Winchester Trail Elementary principal Max Lallathin said Canal Winchester's status as a one-to-one district for students beyond third grade -- meaning each student is provided with their own laptop, tablet, or other computing device -- is one reason why it has enjoyed a relatively smooth transition to online learning.

"Here's just an opportunity where you can see all the fun things we're doing, having the opportunity to utilize the technology that we were blessed with (as) a one-to-one district for 3 to 12," Lallathin said before a presentation at the April 20 virtual school board meeting.

"In fact, one of the things that we feel most strongly about is the fact that we have had just an amazing opportunity to really connect with our parents in a way that had never really taken place before," he said.

Part of this connection comes from the increased feedback teachers have been receiving due to a weekly form sent to parents, allowing them to report if their child requires more support academically, socially or emotionally.

"We really want to take a look at not only the whole child but the whole family, because this really is a partnership. We're all going through this and it has affected everyone differently."

Although routine school functions, such as grading and attendance, are difficult tasks to manage given the current situation, the Canal Winchester district is making sure both are taking place.

"We are doing our best to track attendance," Sotlar said. "It's not the easiest thing to do, but we want to make sure we reach all kids."

He noted that students are credited with attendance after turning in daily assignments. If they don't submit their work, a teacher, principal or guidance counselor will get in touch with students or their parents.

Several school principals have made home visits to students to ensure their safety and see that they continue with their schoolwork, Sotlar said.

He said district records indicate that 10 to 15 students have not been in attendance during the remote-learning period.

Sotlar said grading will carry on as it normally would.

"Each building will look a little different, but the most important thing for our students to know is yes, we are taking grades, and yes, you will get a report card at the end of these nine weeks, so please be sure that you're checking in with your teachers every single day, you're completing your work, you're turning it in and moving forward doing the best that you possibly can," he said.

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