When Conecuh County Schools in rural Alabama started using digital curriculum and virtual instructors on August 12th, 2019, they were primarily focused on addressing the ongoing teacher shortages in their area. Being a rural district, they only had about 100 students from Pre-K to 8th grade and needed a better way to give students the highly qualified science and social studies teachers they deserved. After a quick implementation—school had started on August 5th—the 7th- and 8th-grade students were off and running in their courses. Obviously, the school year turned out different than anyone could’ve imagined, and despite that, Conecuh County Schools experienced rural school success amid school closures.
Weekly Data Review and One-on-One Support
Weekly data meetings helped the staff at Conecuh County actively monitor the progress of their students to ensure they were on-pace and comprehending the instruction. Ms. Ford, the curriculum coordinator for grades 6–8, says that these meetings also helped the staff at Conecuh get on board with this new style of teaching and learning.
The paraprofessionals who served as the school’s facilitators and student mentors would often step in to slow things down. Together with the students, they would rewatch the videos, identify where to take notes, and hold small-group discussions to identify critical concepts from the lesson. They also set up RTI supports and enabled student progress by starting a one-to-one device initiative. Eighth-grade students were enjoying the increased independence and self-paced courses, while seventh-grade students were still getting the hang of the program. But at the end of the first semester, 85% of students had completed their science and social studies courses.
Spring Semester—A New Reality
Fast forward to April 2020, and the pictured looked very different. Like so many families across the country, the Conecuh students found it challenging to access the Internet or use a device with any regularity. Faced with this issue, Ms. Ford and her team got creative. They opened up the school parking lots as hot spots where students could come to upload their assignments. Educators also granted students free movement throughout the course so that when they did have connectivity, they could work as long as they wanted. Lastly, they instituted pretesting, which helped the students skip lessons they’d already mastered, and move on to new content.
Elementary students used Edgenuity Pathblazer® as a supplemental resource to help maintain learning during the school closures, and high-school students used MyPath® at the teacher’s discretion. However, due to the issues with connectivity across the district, administrators decided to drop some grading requirements, making Edgenuity coursework voluntary.
Rural School Success Amid School Closures
Their goal for the school year was to have 80% of 7th- and 8th-grade students complete their social studies and science courses through Edgenuity Instructional Services, and they exceeded that goal during the first semester. But the reality of the situation meant that online instruction wasn’t possible for everyone in the spring.
Only a few students had Internet access at home, and while the school made their parking lot available for quizzes or videos, not many were able to take advantage to sufficiently complete their instruction. But their 8th-grade students still surpassed their goal, and 84% completed their science and social studies requirements. Additionally, the average overall grade for students improved from 65% in the fall semester to 70% in the spring semester.
What Did Students and Parents Say?
Ms. Ford had numerous conversations with parents thanking her for getting their students ready for online learning before it became a necessity. Ironically, Ms. Ford said some of these parents were against her initiative earlier this year. “By starting in August, their students were prepared and ready for [remote learning],” Ms. Ford says, which proved to be critical in maintaining progress and growth.