School districts using what they learned from pandemic to implement new remote learning options

PITTSBURGH — Many school districts are using what they learned from the pandemic as a way to help implement a remote option by using the district’s own teachers. It’s giving families more flexibility to return to the classroom when ready, and districts a way to compete with cyber charter schools that saw enrollment increase last year.

As many students walk to the bus stop, some students will just stay home and simply turn on their computers connecting to their school virtually. Bethel Park Teacher Katie Clifford teaches fourth grade at William Penn Elementary. She has a dual role, teaching in the classroom and all of the fourth grade through their brand-new virtual program: the Bethel Park Academy.

“You have a teacher who’s teaching you exactly what the students in the classroom are learning within a day or two,” said Katie Clifford. “You’re using all of the same materials that they’re using sometimes you might see a video instead of seeing the teacher but you’re being exposed to the same material, so that you’re ready to come back to school at any nine-week break.”

The Academy program is not like a cyber school since it allows families to change their minds at the end of the quarter or semester and head back into the classroom. Clifford currently has six students she’s teaching remotely during these nine weeks. She says this program really provides families with options to do what is best for them and prevents students from having an education gap.

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“When they are ready to come back, or if they need to leave, they’re not missing anything,” said Clifford. “They’re ready to go at all time so I mean that’s the truly great part about it, that they’re not going to be behind if they come back from like you know cyber or wherever.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Education says it’s not a requirement that school districts offer remote programs like these academies, but many local schools are providing just that. Bethel Park, Shaler, North Allegheny, Baldwin-Whitehall and East Allegheny are just a few of the districts in Allegheny County offering flexibility to families by using their own teachers.

Butler Schools Superintendent Brian White says they have had their program for a decade but during the pandemic, they’ve had to tweak and enhance it.

“The district has had a cyber program prior to the pandemic, there was 150 students in the cyber program here with mostly secondary students,” said White. “Some wanted to be on campus as little as possible because the fears of COVID others, you know, want to be on campus all day, but ultimately one of our goals as a district is to provide flexibility for students.”

While learning virtually might not be ideal, school districts feel prepared to transition if they need to flip from inside the classroom back to the screen.