Weakley Schools Focus on Engagement During Closure

Printed and Online Materials Now Available for Encouraging Learning
Posted on 04/16/2020
This is the image for the news article titled Printed and Online Materials Now Available for Encouraging LearningTeachers in training are often taught about an “affective filter” – a “screen” of emotions such as anxiety, self-confidence, motivation and stress that can prevent learning. Administrators and teachers in Weakley County are addressing such road blocks as they roll out an instructional platform that is more focused on the joy of learning than adding to the stress caused by the COVID-19 crisis and school closures.

“Our first priority was the health and safety of our children,” said Weakley County Schools Director Randy Frazier. “After closing schools, we set up meal distribution sites that are reaching nearly 1,500 students from across the county. Next, we began building a hybrid instructional program – paper with online additional helps – that would concentrate on encouraging continued engagement among our students.

 “We know we have a wide spectrum of situations in the county,” he added. “Some have internet access. Some do not. Some have our West Tennessee PBS station. Some do not. And some have someone at home who can work with them while others are in situations where that adult is working an essential job. We want to do our best to reach every child and reduce stress for all involved.”

From the first week of closure, teachers were asked to call students and check on whether they were able to reach one of the 13 meal distribution sites. The calls continued and last week they began gathering information on access to the internet and WLJT, the local PBS station which will include Tennessee Department of Education-produced programming beginning April 6.

“The district has embraced a less is more rationale regarding instruction,” Instructional Supervisors Terri Stephenson and Donald Ray High explained, in an emailed letter to teachers on Wednesday.

“We do not want to make this process too cumbersome for parents/grandparents/caregivers … and we do not want to add an instructional burden but we do want to provide opportunities for students to keep their brains active and engaged,” they noted.

The instructional materials include a one-page printed flyer each for Pre-K, Kindergarten through second grade, third through fifth grades and one for middle and high school. The flyers were dropped at meal distribution locations for Thursday pick-up. The www.weakleyschools.com website was updated to include the information from the flyer with additional links for those with internet access who want to expand on the suggestions offered.

This “hybrid” approach of print with the option of internet links has been designated “Weakley 3/40 Engagement.”

The Weakley 3/40 Engagement is a suggested daily formula of 40 minutes of reading and writing activities, 40 minutes of math and 40 minutes of physical activity. Times are adjusted for pre-schoolers.

While some teachers are already offering their students additional means of connecting through social media groups and suggestions via their weekly calls, administrators want to remind the public that all the efforts, including Weakley 3/40 Engagement, are not mandatory.

“We want to underscore what the Tennessee General Assembly has stated -- the closure will not negatively affect students who were on track prior to the closure,” Frazier continues to emphasize. “We are not testing on any material that we are offering when we do eventually return to the classroom.”

Stephenson and Ray acknowledged that no plan during an extended closure will replace formal class experiences. To teachers, they wrote and answered, “Will there be gaps? There will more than likely be gaps, but we will fill those gaps when the time comes.”

The State Board of Education has called an emergency meeting Thursday, April 9, at 2 p.m. when Frazier believes they will begin to address critical issues brought on by the extended closures.

“Grades are obviously on everyone’s minds,” said Frazier. “The Board will have to answer questions like how we will handle grades for the year, will we move to pass or fail, and if we, do how will something like pass/fails impact GPAs.

“The state must come up with something that will be consistent for all districts,” he concluded.

While speculation exists such as whether schools will close for the year, or if a 2020-21 school year would begin early to work on missed classroom time, etc., Frazier chooses to wait for what the state will mandate and continues to stress his message of health and safety.

“The most important thing for us at the moment is to get through this health crisis and do all we can to mitigate the spread of the virus,” he emphasized. “We will be ready to respond in the classroom when we return.”