Meridian schools see progress despite pandemic

Bianca Moorman/The Meridian Star

West Hills Elementary teacher Stacy Schuler teaches a class during a virtual learning day. 

When the Meridian Public Schools closed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, school officials were worried students weren’t going to get the same experience from online learning they were getting in the classroom. 

“We were nervous coming into this school year, worried about the students' possibility of having lost some of the learning that had taken place,” said Melody Craft, the district's director of secondary curriculum and instruction. 

But based on data from tests given to students during the first semester of school, the district saw students performing the same way they would have if the schools hadn't closed. The numbers were shared with the school board during a meeting in December.

LaVonda Germany, elementary director of curriculum and instruction said recent assessment shows kindergarten were performing at the same levels as the students last year. The data also shows growth in the areas of English, math, science and U.S. History.

The district saw growth in seven out of eight grades in English and language arts and growth in five out of eight grades in math. The district said the biggest increases were seen in fifth grade science and in U.S History.

“The learning curve was really big for us because we had not been dealing with that type of learning,” Germany said.

Craft attributed the improved scores to using a cohesive curriculum, offering professional development and additional training to teachers and offering intervention time to struggling students. 

In February, the district purchased a new curriculum that included an online component. Because the purchase was made before schools closed, it gave teachers  time to grasp the new material, Craft said. 

“It blended well with the COVID situation that we were put in,” she said.

On the elementary level, there were improvements in English/language arts in grades second, third, and fifth, according to Germany. She said fourth grade saw a slight dip in scores, so the district is using AmeriCorps volunteers to help struggling students.

Adapting to challenges

The district said challenges it faced included getting students connected and adapting to  online learning, building teacher-student relationships online, encouraging parental involvement and catching students up on missed material.

The district used funding from the CARES Act to buy additional computer devices and also set up help hotlines at each school.

Craft said an action plan was created for teachers, students and parents to address issues with online learning. The district also provided training for parents on how to use Canvas, so parents could check students' work and attendance, she said. 

“We began to prep for what instruction would look like online, additional training for our teachers, what additional resources would our teachers need and how would we communicate our parents,” said West Hills Elementary Principal Shannon Miller, who noted the school has seen an increase in parental environment.

Kim Pace, assistant principal at Northwest Middle School, said the school created a  system for teachers to create lesson plans and teach together as a team.

“We needed to have a team mindset," Pace said. "Because COVID-19 doesn't only affect our students and parents. We wanted to make sure our teachers were safe too.” 

On Wednesdays, teachers used small group instruction to help students in need, and if students had problems with internet access, learning packets were sent home for them to complete, Pace said.

Looking ahead

The district is planning an assistant principal academy that will focus on building school leaders as a way to close any achievement gaps. 

“I feel like we are heading in the right direction, but it is quite challenging,” Craft said. “We are learning as we go.”

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