JAY - Distance learning is officially here in Oklahoma as of Monday, April 6, 2020.

Much has changed since the coronavirus has taken hold in the United States.

Businesses have closed, schools went on extended spring breaks, “social distancing” has become the current phrase to live by, sports have all but disappeared and now school “learnin’” has a new look.

Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Joy Hofmeister, on March 16 ordered all public schools in the state to cease operations for students and educators until April 6 in response to the spread of the coronavirus.

Teachers and school district leaders across the state are scrambling to begin offering students a variety of distance or remote learning models beginning Monday and lasting for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.

Hofmeister said she applauds teachers and district leaders for their “herculean efforts” to get started so quickly and to begin to confront the inequities in access to technology among Oklahoma schoolchildren.

She said a quick survey of every school district in Oklahoma last week revealed that 26% of the state’s 500-plus districts will be conducting “distance learning” or remote instruction via paper lessons distributed to children, largely because of school district limitations or large concentrations of students with no internet access.

“We understand that it’s going to mean that districts and teachers and families are going to have to do things a little differently, but we want to ease that burden as much as possible," Hofmeister said. "And we are looking for very concrete ways to respond to our districts and families in doing so, while we also keep them safe, the first and primary focus of us is the physical health and well-being of our children and community. Second to that would be then the education continuing.”

Area schools have been providing meals for students since March 16, to ensure they are getting healthy meals.

Schools have been utilizing pick-up points throughout their districts for meals and in some cases, delivering meals to remote locations for pick up.

Now administrators, under directive from Hofmeister, have scrambled to put together a game plan to get instruction materials to students and start distance learning on April 6.

Jay Public Schools

Jay High School Principal James Bryant shared the logistics for Jay schools; “H.S teachers will use Google Classrooms for internet lessons, the Upper and Lower elementary teachers will send physical packets to homes.”

Jay had 160 families reserve a school-loaned Chromebook for students who had internet access, but no adequate equipment.

For Jay students in junior high and high school with internet and their own computers or the borrowed Chromebooks, the lessons would be sent to them electronically.

Those without internet service will receive their lesson packets in the mail, first in a two-week packet and then a three-week packet which will take them to the end of the school year.

Currently, graduation has been cancelled, but a number of ideas are being discussed.

Oaks Mission Public Schools

Oaks Mission school district is hand-delivering lesson packets to every student, due to so few having internet service.

High school principal, CD Thompson, said he and Superintendent Wyman Thompson along with a bus driver and teacher’s aid will deliver the teacher-generated paper packets to students each week.

Graduation ceremony is in an unknown.

Kansas Public Schools

Kansas Public Schools have gone electronically and packets for their students.

Principal Phil Isom said the survey the school conducted showed that 50% of the students have access to the internet, so Kansas will do a combination of internet and paper packets.

They are not doing a loaner program, such as Jay implemented for their students.

The paper packets will get to students in a combination of mailing, pick up at the school and delivery to those students that don’t the means to get to the school to do a pick up.

Currently, the Kansas schools are doing the Grab ‘n Go meals for students, providing hundreds of meal each day, distribution via five routes and pick up on the campus.

Colcord Public Schools

Colcord will also do a combination of internet and mail lessons for their students.

Internet instruction will occur using Google Classroom for junior and high school students and paper packets for the lower grades.

Superintendent Bud Simmons posted a letter to parents on the school website giving details, including the amount of time each student should spend on their daily assignments, based on grade level.

Those receiving paper packets will receive their packets as they pick up the Grab ‘n Go meals, currently about 300 meals each day.

All the necessary changes made to successfully close out the school year have created new challenges for administrators, students and parents.

Schools have had to come up with an effective way to continue student learning away from the classroom and parents will now have to take a more involved stance in their children’s education.

These changes may very well turn out to be a positive as parents are more cognizant of what kids are learning and more aware of the challenges teachers may be facing within the classroom.

As this school year comes to a close, with no more sports, graduations cancelled or postponed, this will be a year to be remembered.

How about next school year?

Hofmeister has told the school districts to be prepared to begin the new school year with distance learning.

No one wants that, but they are following the old adage “Be prepared for the worst, but hope for the best.”

One thing is evident, though, and that is every school staff person has said they are up to the challenge and will successfully complete the school year with the students.