Northampton Students Return to Classrooms in Fall, Digital Learning Will Still Have a Role

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By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton County Public Schools summer programs are underway to help students recover learning losses from the COVID-19 pandemic, and administrators are hammering out the details of a plan that will allow all students to return to school in person five days a week in the fall.

The main summer school session does not start until Tuesday, July 6, but already students are making progress catching up, including two seniors who did not graduate in June but are now on track to graduate in August, Superintendent Eddie Lawrence said during the June 24 school board meeting.

The majority of Northampton students in summer school are academically at-risk, but some are attending for other reasons, such as socialization opportunities that were lacking in the last year, Lawrence said.

The elementary schools do not mandate summer school attendance but they can “highly suggest” it to students who need remediation, he noted.

Northampton schools also will offer a virtual learning option when regular classes resume in September.

The virtual option is not set in stone but it will likely be Virtual Virginia, an online learning program approved by the Virginia Department of Education.

Virtual Virginia teachers can live anywhere in the U.S., and virtual class schedules do not necessarily fall within normal school hours. For these reasons school board member Charlena Jones suggested at least considering a local alternative to Virtual Virginia.

Lawrence agreed that he was “not a fan” of how using Virtual Virginia limits opportunities for teachers and school staff to interact with students and manage learning.

However, he noted that Virtual Virginia “really adds to the versatility of our small district.” For example, too few students are interested in learning French for Northampton schools to employ a full-time French teacher, but students can take classes in French, Chinese, and other foreign languages through Virtual Virginia.

Virtual Virginia has a variety of course offerings in all subject areas, including math, history, and science.

A survey will be given to parents in July to determine how many Northampton students may participate in virtual learning next school year.

No matter which virtual learning option is provided, students must apply and be approved to participate in Northampton’s virtual learning program for the 2021-2022 school year.

Approving a student for the virtual learning program will be based on criteria such as a good attendance record, demonstrated academic progress in the 2020-2021 school year, ability to self-direct, and reliable internet access.

Lawrence does not anticipate high interest in next year’s virtual learning program, since about 85% of Northampton students in grades K-8 and 11-12 were attending class in person four days a week by the end of the 2020-2021 school year.

(Northampton schools were unable to offer a four-day, in-person school week to students in grades 9 and 10 this year due to a lack of flexibility of COVID-19-related restrictions on school buses, Lawrence said.)

There may not be many students learning virtually next school year, but technology will remain a key feature in Northampton students’ education.

Every student in grades 3-12 will be issued a mobile device, and third to sixth grade classrooms will have computer carts so elementary students will not need to transport devices between school and home.

Students in grades pre-K to 2 will get Onetab devices to be kept at school, preloaded with math and literacy activities.

Teachers will learn how to design and implement blended learning lessons; students will learn about digital citizenship and online safety.

Wi-Fi hotspots will be available to all students and staff upon request, internet connectivity will be extended to the edge of each school parking lot, and technical support will continue to be available to parents and families.

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