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United States history details are explained to in-person learners by Roaring Fork High School social studies teacher Mitch Foss. Photo by Roberta McGowan.

United States history details are explained to in-person learners by Roaring Fork High School social studies teacher Mitch Foss. Photo by Roberta McGowan.

RE-1’s high schools are joining forces to find solutions to the roller coaster ride students face navigating their fluctuating learning environments.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take a toll on the Valley’s physical and emotional well being, professionals note local school kids are also feeling out of sorts due to the seemingly never-ending swing from in-person to distance learning and back again, depending on disease data.
Roaring Fork, Basalt and Glenwood Springs high schools together have implemented innovative programs to bring back hopeful enthusiasm to their students.
According to Roaring Fork High School (RFHS) Principal Lyn Bair, “Our group started discussing options in November and came up with a workable plan by late December. This was implemented in January.” It combines in-person and distance learning at the same scheduled time and day. “We knew we had to come up with something different,” she noted, “It gave us a reason to work together.”
A visit to the classroom of RFHS social studies teacher Mitch Foss brings into view what is actually going on. Students in the room are wearing masks and are following social distancing protocols. This particular group is studying United States history.
In addition, a large video screen brings distance learning kids into the mix where they efficiently interact with Foss and the other students in the room.
Foss explained that the distance learners for this class are all from Carbondale, but many others also involve students from Basalt or Glenwood Springs.
Foss describes human geography, another subject that he teaches, as “introducing students to the patterns humans create on the earth’s surface [through] culture, populations, politics, agriculture, urbanization and industry.”
Other “blended” classes cover American literature, taught by Carmen McCraken, and pre-calculus with Lindsay Dunkin,
Basalt Assistant Principal Megan Balardo was also enthusiastic about the new take on learning. She reports that the kids are glad to be in touch with students from throughout the Valley and feels that all three high schools having both in-person and separate online classes took up too much time and was not cost-effective. However, she noted that each school does have a number of online-only teachers.
In Glenwood Springs, Principal Paul Freeman said that the blended program “is not a substitute for in-person instruction, anything else is a compromise.” But, he recognized the district’s need to respond to the present situation. “Kids are craving some normalcy,” he reported.
Freeman reported that attendance is good, but in other parts of the country, “Students are disappearing, primarily from the elementary and middle schools.”
The Roaring Fork School District makes sure all kids are connected to distance learning resources. Initiated in 2013, the Chromebook initiative provided all students in grades 4-12 a laptop computer for school use by 2016. The program proved especially vital in 2020.
The goal of this project, as stated on the district’s website, is to have students “think critically, collaborate in an authentic environment, communicate effectively and be responsible consumers of information,” adding, “The recent technology infusion into schools helps allow students to accomplish these things and be better prepared.”
The district is simultaneously working to provide options for students to access the internet. “Many families who live on the Roaring Fork Valley floor will be able to access the internet via a very low cost option sponsored by Roaring Fork Schools. This service will be rolled out throughout the three communities with specific coverage areas and timelines provided in advance. We will reach out directly to families who live in coverage areas as soon as the service is available.”
For information about available resources for students, visit the technology page at rfsd.k12.co.us
The district also recommends students use commonsensemedia.org and netsmartz.org to “understand the nuances of online interaction.” Families with technology issues can call 970-384-6004 for help.

Tags: #Carmen McCraken #Lyn Bair #RE-1 #schools
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