Van Meter Community School District Emphasizes Flexibility, Availability + Support
Van Meter Community School District is a small district just west of Waukee and West Des Moines. Our mission is to personalize learning for each student’s success today, and tomorrow. The district strives to create a learning environment that helps develop college, career and life ready graduates. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our vision for learning hasn’t changed, but how we deliver instruction and our learning environment has had to evolve to a more digital, asynchronous and online community. To many this transition would seem to have been done rather quickly, but being flexible and willing to pivot when needed is a foundation of the Van Meter school system and something we have been preparing to do for over 10 years.
Continuous Learning System
Van Meter CSD has been a K-12 1:1 school (which means there is a device for every student) for over 11 years. We have utilized a standards-based grading model for close to 10 years and we have been working to provide a competency-based education system for our students and staff as well. All of those factors have helped us move to a “continuous” learning system, as outlined by the Iowa Department of Education, to support our students during this global pandemic.
Once we found out we were not going to be coming back to school for a few weeks, we gave our teachers the following guidance:
- Be flexible, supportive and available. Relationships are at the core of what we do. Continue to find ways to foster those with our students and families.
- Focus on power standards. Less is more.
- Be mindful of your own needs and know that every challenge is an opportunity to find ways to do things differently. Take advantage of this challenge and improve your own health and well-being and find ways to become better at your craft.
We tried to focus our attention not on academics, but on reaching out to students and families to continue to foster positive relationships and to help ensure the mental health of our students. We are in the people business and everything we can do to build positive relationships with students and families enables us to find ways to provide a flexible learning environment that is personalized in nature.
As a 1:1 school, we have always provided online and digital supports for our students. We’ve expected teachers to utilize the tools for which our students have access and we have provided years of professional development to prepare our teachers in supporting students in a more digital environment. Because of these supports our transition in moving to a more online approach of teaching and learning was easier for our staff and students than in many districts.
We quickly developed a website with resources and supports for all grade levels. This website is the hub for finding all of the information needed to support students at home, but our teachers are also providing Zoom sessions and Google Hangouts with kids at all grade levels. Maintaining those personal connections have been key to our successful implementation of a remote learning environment.
Because we have used a standards-based grading model and have worked towards becoming a competency-based education system, identifying the most essential learnings, what we call power standards was already done. With our CBE frameworks, we have structures in place that helped us focus on the learning, not the tasks that were being asked of kids. These components have allowed us to focus on what the new learning environment would look like. Instead of what or why, we have been able to concentrate on the how. Our remote-learning supports developed by our teachers and our district librarian, Shannon Miller, have provided the resources needed to help students continue to learn. Our teacher leaders and building administrators have provided outstanding support for our teachers along this journey.
As Charles Swindoll said, “Life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it.” We have worked as a district to do all that we can to remain positive during this time and to really embrace the challenge as an opportunity for us to improve as a district. We clearly have barriers in our educational system that need addressed in regards to equity, access and archaic structures and rules that have been road blocks to improving the learning environments for students across the state and nation. We want this pandemic to be a stimulus that leads to long-lasting changes to our current academic structures. Hopefully, we are finding ways to educate students in a way that fosters quality relationships during this challenging time we are facing and it will lead to the improvements needed in our educational system for years to come.
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