Jeffco teachers face a 'curveball' with online summer learning

Students gaining skills despite new challenges

Casey Van Divier
cvandivier@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 7/7/20

Jeffco Public Schools typically runs its Jeffco Summer of Early Leaning (JSEL), a summer learning program for incoming first through third graders, at schools and in person. But as June rolled around …

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Jeffco teachers face a 'curveball' with online summer learning

Students gaining skills despite new challenges

Posted

Jeffco Public Schools typically runs its Jeffco Summer of Early Leaning (JSEL), a summer learning program for incoming first through third graders, at schools and in person. But as June rolled around and health concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic continued, the program’s organizers reworked JSEL into a virtual offering to serve 515 students this year.

“JSEL has been such a passion for me and remote learning has thrown a curveball, but it’s really exciting these kids are still able to do this program,” said JSEL teacher Brie Montoya. “I really am glad these kids were able to do it.”

The no-cost programming is open to students who would like summer help to ensure they are on-track for next school year, particularly for students who are not reading at grade level and are on a read plan, or who are in danger of needing a read plan.

The program began with one-to-one meetings between parents and teachers on June 1, followed by five weeks of video conferencing classes.

While the program traditionally runs from 8 a.m. to noon on weekdays, this year, classes were held on weekdays from 9:30 to 11:30. The two-hour daily sessions included reading lessons taught to students and chances for students to practice their reading out loud. Outside of class hours, students also had the option to complete self-guided math activities.

As teachers adapted to the remote environment alongside their students, they said they found creative ways to keep class engaging — whether that meant virtual field trips to the San Diego Zoo and the Met in New York, or sending care packages to students during the summer.

The teachers added that for some students, helping them adapt required reworking the remote environment altogether.

Jeffco parent Becca Rehme, whose son, Quinn, attends Arvada’s Sierra Elementary, enrolled her son in JSEL after noting he had lost some learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Within two or three days of the online version of JSEL, however, she could tell her son was overwhelmed.

Rehme and Kristina McCombie, Quinn’s JSEL teacher, came up with an alternative: Rehme would attend classes instead of Quinn during the day and teach her son separately. Her son would also have a one-on-one remote meeting with McCombie every day before class began.

“They were very flexible and willing to meet him where he was at,” Rehme said. “The benefits of the remote environment were that we could customize the experience to Quinn’s needs and maturity level.”

Parent Christie Hensley likewise highlighted the way her daughter’s JSEL teacher, Montoya, has worked with her daughter, Jane, who attends Blue Heron Elementary in Littleton.

“One day, my daughter really was struggling. The teacher could see it on Zoom and picked up the phone and called me personally,” Hensley said. “It was great. My daughter has made a lot of gains thanks to JSEL and her teacher has really helped her gain more confidence (reading).”

While teachers have learned how to get students the individual help they need remotely, Montoya acknowledged that the extent of learning this year may not match what occurred in JSEL for 2019.

“There’s something to be said for having a book in front of you and going through it,” she said. “But this is our reality. I think it’s not hurting them; they’re getting the extra reading and the extra support.”

That said, students have made important strides through the program, teachers and parents said.

“He’s going to be in a better place than he would have had he not done JSEL,” Rehme said of her son. “I encourage other parents to enroll their children in JSEL in future summers. I watched both my son and the members of his class progress greatly in just one month.”

Beyond academics, McCombie and Montoya emphasized the other skills a remote JSEL has helped students develop this year.

“This was a brand new thing; they didn’t know me and they had to have a certain amount of confidence with getting to know the other kids,” McCombie said. “They’ve gained interpersonal skills, some confidence and some flexibility.”

Teachers also have gained a lot, she said — and with luck, those gains will help inform the remote portions of next year’s teaching.

“A lot of schools including my own did not do any live teaching during the pandemic. We’re paving the way for what remote teaching could look like in the fall,” she said. “This is live teaching every day. It’s been really rejuvenating to me and has made my life brighter.”

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