In the past, the words “back to school” typically brought to mind new notebooks, crayons and backpacks. Students normally concerned themselves with putting together the perfect first-day-of-school outfit and hoping their friends would be in their classes. Parents were usually busy packing lunch boxes and making sure children arrived at their bus stops on time.
The first week of the 2020-2021 school year concluded Friday, Aug. 21, for the Vicksburg Warren School District and for thousands of students, teachers and educators it was anything but typical, normal or usual.
Notebooks and crayons have become Chromebooks and Wi-Fi access. Visiting with friends has become Facetime and Google classrooms. Logging in on time has become the new catching the bus on time.
Kate Harthcock, a parent of two VWSD students, anticipated the need for a forum that would allow people to speak out, reach out and help out, so, two months ago she created a public Facebook group called VWSD Parents. The group’s purpose is “for parents to get information and ask any questions they might have.” The group has grown to nearly 2,500, including many teachers and administrators, and has become a place for members to share first-week experiences, good and bad.
“Our experience started out chaotic, but with a little more organization on my end and a little better understanding of the virtual requirements, I think we have it down,” said Kerry Howell, parent of a 13-year-old distance learner enrolled at the Academy of Innovation. “The only negative experience we’ve had has been with Grade Results.”
Grade Results is an online curriculum being used by the VWSD and is touted as research-based, differentiated learning. Its website claims the curriculum combines “the best of personalized learning with proven results,” but many posts to Harthcock’s Facebook group disagree. The posts say the content is not on students’ grade level and correct answers are not given on multiple choice questions.
“Grade Results needs a total overhaul, but that’s not the teachers’ fault,” Howell said. “They didn’t put passages about Roe v. Wade and cutting open chickens after killing them on there. That’s out of their control. There’s a whole lot of people unhappy with Grade Results, and people on Facebook are sharing the 1-800 numbers to contact the company. People are really trying to help each other out with all of the questions and uncertainties. Everything else has been pretty smooth.”
Harthcock mentioned the challenges teachers face this year as a motivation for starting the group.
“Teachers already worked so hard, and this year is requiring them to work two and three times as much to accommodate everyone’s specific needs,” she said. “I just wanted to come up with a way for parents to support other parents, share information and have a place we can all encourage each other in a positive way.”
As Howell put it, “The first week of school has always been a little crazy. 2020 just gave us a first week that was crazy in different ways.”