After three months of virtual learning, the results are in from a survey conducted by the Berkshire Local School District for its Badger Virtual Academy with a mixture of responses.
Some parents stated that their children, many in the upper grades, were struggling, did not have enough direct access to instructors and were not receiving the same level of education compared to in-person classes. Other parents of elementary students expressed satisfaction with the Zoom based classes with teachers.
There are 327 students in the virtual academy and 61 parents responded to the survey, according to school officials.
Survey respondents indicated on a scale from 1 to 5 their satisfaction with the virtual academy, 1 being very satisfied and 5 being unsatisfied. Overall, Superintendent John Stoddard said, “75 percent of the feedback was neutral to positive with the largest percentage being a 2 [rating] which is positive.”
As part of its re-start plan launched in the fall, Berkshire offered parents the option of enrolling their children in the virtual academy for students in grades K-12.
Students in grades K-5 were expected to log in for a class session via Zoom for every scheduled school day. Class session lengths varied depending the grade level. Students in grades six through 12 completed a majority of their instruction and classwork online with scheduled Zoom meetings with their facilitator as needed. In addition to Zoom classroom sessions, students were given daily assignments to complete online as well.
According to a survey response, one parent indicated, “The first few weeks I would have liked to see the teachers work with the kids having technology difficulties one-on-one during afternoon office hours rather than during zoom sessions.”
The parent indicated her daughter quickly became frustrated during 45-minute Zoom sessions where a majority of the time was spent working through other students’ technology struggles, but it has gotten much better she said after a “not so great” start.
Another survey response from a parent of elementary students said, “I have two in this age group, Grade 2 is fantastic and the teachers are wonderful, everything is very simple for our child to do on her own and the teachers do a good job at instruction.” The third-grade student had a different experience, the parent stated. “Grade 3 has been a little more challenging, but overall, things are going well, teachers are available for help when needed and work is consistent every week which makes things simple for us.”
Other parents stated that academy teachers are doing the best they can. Those parents also expressed the need for a traditional classroom environment by having more Zoom lessons together as a class.
A parent with children in kindergarten and second grade said she would like to see more writing. “I know that this is hard with an online platform, but I worry that writing sentences, sentence structure, paragraph writing and basic spelling of words will put them behind those in the in-person classroom,” the parent stated.
A parent of a fourth-grader expressed frustrations. “It’s extremely hard to hold a fourth-grader accountable, three math assignments, two English assignments, then reading, writing a paragraph and doing other programs. This is today’s assignments and it has become a constant battle.” As a working single parent, the survey responder stated, “I cannot sit there next to my fourth-grader all day and now we’re up late at night trying to keep pace.”
Parents of children in grades seven through12 are utilizing a digital curriculum platform known as Apex, a program that district officials say is based on curriculum accepted by educators and allows students to learn at their own pace.
A seventh-grade parent said the material is challenging at times and more advanced for her son’s grade level, but he is still managing good grades. “I like that my child can work at his own pace and on his own time schedule,” the respondent said. “It is nice he doesn’t have to sit through Zoom meetings all day every day, though I do kind of wish there was some Zoom instruction maybe once a week, but the teachers do respond in a timely matter when extra help is needed.”
Some parents responding to the survey stated that although Apex provides the needed grade-level content, it falls short. These parents expressed concern over whether their child was reading and answering questions just to pass a test.
Parents responding to the survey were also critical of the pace in the Apex program stating that if a student falls behind, catching up is extremely difficult. Apex doles out more work in four core subject areas than would be required if the students were attending in-person classes, the parents stated.
One parent stated that high school students should have the opportunity to be taught by teachers through Zoom since the district said the academy was being facilitated by Berkshire teachers. Elementary students in the academy do have daily sessions with teachers.
There was some positive feedback in the survey. One parent wrote: “The teachers did a fantastic job with organizing Google Classrooms and information to start the year and familiarize students and parents with the Apexsystem and Google Classroom.
“Teachers have been available and helpful throughout the first quarter. They have established positive relationships, given prompt feedback, and have been extremely helpful,” the parent wrote.