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Cortez schools create new position to help with online learning

High numbers of elementary students use online option
Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 hired two new “site coordinators” to assist students with navigating the online program Colorado Digital Learning Solutions. Students using the online program have a teacher from CDLS, not the school district, so the site coordinators serve as a local connection to Montezuma-Cortez schools.

The transition to a mix of in-person and online learning has necessitated a new role in Montezuma-Cortez schools – site coordinators.

For the 600 students in the district who are learning remotely through Colorado Digital Learning Solutions, the state-supported provider of online coursework, local site coordinators help students with the platform and help provide support from the school district.

At-home students work with remote CDLS teachers. The site coordinator connects the school district with a student who needs extra help in a course or access to services CDLS can’t provide, such as counseling.

Site coordinators also help families use the online platform.

“They help us keep on top of things and ensure that our students are successful,” said Jim Parr, elementary school principal and district assessment coordinator. “It’s another layer of support and effort.”

The two site coordinators at the district level have experience with online teaching and CDLS. One works daily in Towaoc with Ute Mountain Ute Tribe students.

Nineteen “coaches” are available for high school students who are learning online. They are RE-1 classroom teachers who block off time to check in with online students.

Middle school “coaches” offer support to online students when they can in addition to teaching, but site coordinators offer technical help with CDLS and Acellus Academy, the other platform the school district started using when CDLS was full.

High school students were already using Acellus before the pandemic for credit recovery, so assistance for that platform was already set up, Parr said.

But of the 600 students learning online, 300 are elementary school students. So the school district essentially created two kindergarten classes, first grade classes, second grade classes and so on, with teachers each taking a class.

More elementary school students learning online

In the Mancos School District, more elementary school students are using the online option compared with the secondary schools. There are 37 elementary school students using CDLS compared with 17 in the high school and 18 in the middle school.

But online learning in Mancos is being facilitated by the school district teachers, not by CDLS teachers or new site coordinators. The teacher-to-student ratio has remained the same, but some students are online and some students are in person.

While teaching both in-person and online students is a challenge, it has “gotten better for teachers as they’ve gotten used to it,” said Mancos Superintendent Brian Hanson.

However, project-based learning coordinator Ed Whritner has been helping both students and teachers in Mancos to navigate the CDLS platform.

School administrators are unsure why the online option is more popular for elementary students. It requires more parent supervision and support than other grade levels, and for parents who can’t work from home, it can be challenging.

With online learning, students and their parents are “not tied to typical daytime hours,” Parr said. Parents can also support their students on the weekends or at night, or whatever time works for them, he said, but it is “still a challenge.”

Hanson said it is likely families have created their own learning “pods” by dropping their students off to be supervised by another parent.

Parents can switch their students to in-person or online midway through the year in the Montezuma-Cortez district if the option they chose isn’t working for them. But Parr said the pandemic has caused a “pretty significant shift with education,” one that is “definitely not going away.”