Shippensburg area teachers have stepped up to the plate and completely revamped lesson formats to help their students continue to learn amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

As glitches continue to be identified and addressed, the school district administration is evaluating this process and how to improve and evolve it in these uncertain times.

At the April 27 board meeting, district parent and former school board member Susan Spicka sent the following public comments to the board:

“I most strongly encourage the Shippensburg Area School District to reconsider its decision to award high school students 4th quarter grades that will be calculated into their GPAs and class ranks while students are at home engaged in remote learning for the remainder of the school year. Assigning grades to students raises enormous equity issues in a district where high-quality broadband access is not universally available and four in 10 students live in families with very low incomes. On April 14, the date that graded remote learning started at SASHS, school district leaders estimated that 125 families, or 7 percent of the district population, had no access to the internet. Even students with CenturyLink internet service in their homes may lack adequate bandwidth to fully participate in remote learning activities, including synchronous meetings, such as Zoom meetings teachers call with students to provide instruction. Shippensburg ASD is an outlier among districts in our region in choosing to assign high-stakes grades for remote learning during the COVID-19 school closure. Remote learning is overwhelming and very stressful, even for students who are in the best circumstances possible. High school students with AP classes have 5 or 6 classes. Their teachers email them at random times of the day with random assignments and messages. Keeping track of everything without any centralized calendar or system is very difficult — even for students in the best home situation with access to quality internet. 

Imagine being a student who is hungry, living in a chaotic home, providing childcare for younger siblings, and/or sharing a device. And with the current policy, students’ grades for this patched-together remote learning during a pandemic will impact their chances of getting into selective colleges, receiving merit-based financial aid and receiving scholarships — regardless of their access to learning. Below are links to the Continuity of Education plans for every school district in Cumberland and Franklin counties. These plans offer alternatives to SASD’s grading policy that punishes students who are struggling with remote learning. I hope you will reconsider your decision.”

A chart Spicka submitted showed other area school districts that were not administering grades or rated on their level of engagement. Others are deriving the final GPA based on the first three marking periods. She also noted Shippensburg has the sixth highest share of students with very low incomes out of 45 school districts in our region.

After President Mark Buterbaugh read Spicka’s submitted comments and thanked her for her work compiling the data, Superintendent Dr. Chris Suppo spoke, and gave an update on the district’s engagement levels.

“Under the circumstances, we are working in a scenario we have never had to work with. I want to thank our teachers, staff, community, parents and students. Everyone has been very understanding as we venture into these uncharted waters. Everyone is being flexible and making modifications.”

He noted since the pandemic shuttered schools in March, the district has distributed more than 20,000 breakfasts and lunches to SASD families, and is continuing to distribute meals to all students age 18 and younger on Tuesdays and Fridays at the high school and James Burd Elementary. 

“I am proud of the work completed by the food service staff, and the many volunteers from the school community and the community at large,” Suppo said.

He added Susan Martin, principal of Nancy Grayson Elementary, continues to work with families who are having trouble with internet access, and is conducting a virtual learning survey to receive additional feedback from parents.

Suppo said the week prior to April 27, there were 28 students at Nancy Grayson who did not complete at least 28 percent of their assigned tasks. Twenty-two of those students have limited access to the internet. At James Burd that week, there were 23 students who were disengaged, which was down slightly from the week before. Grace B. Luhrs Elementary was reporting 99 percent of students having moderate or high engagement levels, with a “small number” not engaged, Suppo added. At the intermediate school, staff and administrators were aggressively tracking 15 students, and reported 65 to 80 percent engagement, depending on the subject.

At the middle school, there were 194 students not engaged the first week of virtual learning, and the number had dropped to 106 by the second week. About 22 students at the middle school do not have internet access, and faculty has been providing take-home packets for those students, Suppo noted.

At the high school, he said it is a little more difficult to determine engagement because of the students seeing different teachers. From the first week, 9th grade had 54 students not engaged, with 62 in 10th grade, 51 in 11th grade, and 29 in 12th grade. 

He said teachers are doing home visits when necessary, and are reaching out to provide any necessary support.

“As we move forward, we hope to make more progress with that,” he said. “Teachers are also making phone calls, and counselors and administrators are reaching out to keep in contact with families.”

Director Dr. Michael Lyman commended the staff and those working to distribute meals.

“They are doing a very good job. It’s a great service for our community. I think the need is growing, and I hope they continue to prepare more meals. It’s much-needed support that our community needs.”

Director Dr. Nathan Goates thanked Suppo for offering the update on engagement levels.

“It’s tricky to compile that data,” he said. “We still have time to decide how grades are going to be delivered, if at all. I hope you continue to collect the data so at the next board meeting we can have a month’s worth of data and a better idea of participation.”

Buterbaugh added, “There has really been a lot of commitment and dedication put in with this virtual learning. I truly appreciate the efforts, and this board feels deep gratitude to the staff and students for their hard work. Also, to the volunteers, it’s that dedication and commitment that really warms our hearts and makes our community so great. This is what gets communities like Shippensburg through a pandemic like this.”

Suppo said they will continue to collect data and be flexible.

“Instruction has changed quite a bit in the last few weeks. I want to thank everyone for their support. There are so many people that make such a huge difference in our community. So many people are involved and giving selflessly, and we certainly appreciate it.”

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