MT online students/teachers clearing hurdles

By Martin Graham - [email protected]

Miami Trace Local School District administrators recently provided an update on how the Panther Virtual Academy (PVA) is progressing since the school re-opened last month.

As part of its “Return-Reset School Plans” for the 2020-21 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Miami Trace Local School District has been offering a special online learning option to parents and students, the PVA.

“The elementary platform offers curriculum for grades K-5, and the secondary platform offers courses for grades 6-12,” Miami Trace Superintendent Kim Pittser wrote via email on Monday afternoon.

Approximately one week before the official start of school, the Miami Trace administrative team was still shifting and assigning staff to cover the more than 400 students across the district.

“Launching the Panther Virtual Academy has been an exciting adventure,” Katie Abbott, one of the PVA directors, said. “We are proud of our staff and their willingness to do whatever it takes to serve the needs of our students.”

In addition to re-assigning teachers, the district shifted administrative duties among team members to identify a director in each building and currently Abbott handles the high school, Jackie Morris is the director for the middle school, and Amy Boston heads up the elementary school.

One of the first questions asked by the Record-Herald was: How are students doing? According to the emailed response from the district, students are adjusting and doing well.

“Many look forward to their daily class meeting times and connections made during Zoom time,” Pittser wrote via email. “They are respectful and take turns asking questions virtually using the technology tools. They are coming prepared to learn in their virtual environments. Some classes ask students to use their whiteboards as paper and hold them up to the camera during small group work, and they are doing a great job. The learning processes in PVA are somewhat different than in-person learning but students are making these adjustments.”

The district also said, “Thank you,” to the parents and guardians at home for the important role they play in this process. Administrators said that many have had to learn technological skills to provide the best support for their students in this environment and some families have shared the classroom corners and bulletin boards set up in their homes.

“Overall, we have heard from parents that they appreciate the flexibility of the program,” Pittser said. “The ability to watch recorded lessons has been very convenient for families who use them during evening hours and weekends.”

“We appreciate the ongoing communication between staff and students/families. We continue to learn things together to make the experience the best for everyone in PVA,” Miami Trace Middle School PVA director Morris said.

Next, the Record-Herald inquired about any hurdles that have been a challenge to overcome. According to the PVA team, the main hurdles that they have had to overcome are learning the platforms and working through technology obstacles.

With the platforms being new to many students and families, teaching navigation has been vital. Things like using the online tools, accessing and uploading assignments, and creating or submitting communications have been challenging at times. Many teachers use Zoom meetings with students and parents and conduct screen share to show exactly where to locate items and how to use them. Moving into week three of PVA is allowing more confidence in all of these areas.

“Anytime you do something new there will be challenges,” MTES PVA Director Boston said. “Our team has worked diligently to ensure a positive experience for our students. We appreciate the technology team helping us all troubleshoot and find solutions to these challenges.”

Despite the assurance that every student has a device and hot spot if requested, there still have been some connection obstacles. Currently the technology department, led by Amy Gustin and Jimmy Enochs, has been instrumental in creating and implementing PVA as well.

“When things aren’t running smoothly, they are available to assist, so we encourage students and families to please contact us if any future technology issues arise,” Pittser said.

Finally, the Record-Herald gave the district an opportunity to address families and the public at large. They said that the PVA has definitely had a learning curve for all involved because, “it is truly a different way of educating.”

“We want to thank our families for their patience and support through troubleshooting, adjusting, and again learning together,” Pittser said. “Our staff members associated with PVA strive to make this a wonderful opportunity for all those participating. Please feel free to contact any of the directors or the teaching staff of PVA for any questions or concerns. We look forward to continuing on this learning pathway with students enrolled in PVA.”

The information in this article was provided by the Miami Trace Local School District Panther Virtual Academy administrative team. Stay with the Record-Herald for more coverage of online learning in Fayette County.

Reach Martin Graham at (740) 313-0351 or on Twitter @MartiTheNewsGuy.

By Martin Graham

[email protected]