Parkway School Board Leans Toward Hybrid Learning

Dexter+Wong+goes+to+his+fifth+grade+class+at+Shenandoah+Valley+Elementary+online.+%22I+would+really+like+going+back+to+school%2C%22+he+said.+%22It%E2%80%99s+like+we+all+probably+took+it+for+granted+until+it+was+gone.%22+Photo+by+Ann+Wong.

Dexter Wong goes to his fifth grade class at Shenandoah Valley Elementary online. “I would really like going back to school,” he said. “It’s like we all probably took it for granted until it was gone.” Photo by Ann Wong.

Emma Li, Reporter

Green Trails Elementary Principal Rene Sommers has been working diligently to stay connected to her students. Last summer, as she was delivering supplies to her students’ homes, it was yet another blow to be unable to hug her students as they are so used to. 

“[O]ne little girl… she got so upset. She turned around, walked in the house, and slammed the door. And it just breaks my heart, because I really do want to hold my kids, I want to reassure them that things are gonna be okay,” Sommers said. 

It is no surprise that students, parents, and staff alike miss in-person learning. In a Board of Education meeting on Sept. 16, many public comments were angry and frustrated that Parkway has not started in person learning sooner. 

“The eLearning quarter system is causing irreparable harm to the social and emotional health of our children,” Terri Zuber said at the school board meeting, mother of a Central High junior. “[T]he attempt to shove 18 weeks of material into a nine week time frame is unsustainable and will be to the educational detriment of our children.” 

When discussing the myriad of options that Parkway is facing, the decisions other districts are making, as well as the steps taken by private schools, are a constant presence. Since Rockwood has just released its plans to begin transitioning its youngest students to in-person learning in late September, parents are facing another dilemma as to how to handle work. 

Genevieve Betz is a teacher at Ballwin Elementary in Rockwood School District with elementary-aged children in Parkway. When she returns to work, it will take a great deal of effort to manage both home and work life if Parkway is to go with hybrid learning.

“I think the hybrid learning is going to be difficult because from what I understand, the children will have direct contact with their teachers for two days, then for the other three days, they will have no instruction from their teachers, and they’ll just have work to do at home,” Betz said. “I’ve thought about Adventure Club [after school program] options… My husband’s a police officer, and he may just change his schedule and work all night.”

On the other hand, Sommers is in favor of hybrid learning, especially for younger students who are struggling the most online. 

“We really have to think about the long term impact of keeping children who are as young as five and six out of school,” Sommers said. “Imagine if you couldn’t read, and you didn’t know colors, I mean it would be very hard for you to get online with your teacher, right?”

While many are disappointed that Parkway did not begin the school year with hybrid learning, the decisions made by the district are still supported.

“[Being] worried… that’s always going to be in the back of our mind,” Ann Wong said, mother of Mallory, Dexter, and Emily Wong in the Parkway School District. “But so far I’ve just been really impressed… with how the district has handled the whole pandemic. It seems very organized… I’m hopeful and I believe that Parkway will do the best that the district can.”

The most recent school board meeting addressed the practicalities of their next steps forward. 

“Resurveying both staff and parents regarding student attendance is going to drive our decision,” Michael Baugus, Parkway Chief Human Resources Officer, said. 

The survey for parents went out in an email a day later, and Parkway will release their decision on Oct. 2. Preparations will also have to be made from the information collected from staff surveys, in order to accommodate everyone’s needs, while keeping the health and safety of teachers in mind. 

“You know that if the teacher gets sick, even if they don’t get deathly ill, how are we going to teach that class for 14 days?” Sommers said. “Certainly it’s going to be our adults that are more vulnerable than students. We’ve got to look at keeping everyone safe.”

In another update from Parkway, it has been hinted that a transition period could soon be starting for preschool and elementary students, then gradually working towards upper grade levels.

Looking ahead, many are hopeful that classrooms will be able to reunite face to face.

“My favorite part being an elementary administrator… is lunchtime, I get to go into the cafeteria at lunchtime and just talk to kids and get to know them,” Felicia Boyd, Assistant Principal at Shenandoah Valley Elementary, said. “I miss that part, that personable piece.”

The members of the Board of Education ultimately want everyone back at school, but realistically, everything is subject to change. If the numbers change drastically, or the county issues a stay at home order, or any number of situations arise, Parkway has to adapt to meet those challenges. Nevertheless, some are still holding out hope. 

“I miss practically everything,” Dexter said.