Whitehall-Coplay SD uses technology to address learning deficits in students but relies on in-person classes

Written by on September 22, 2021

Whitehall-Coplay SD uses technology to address learning deficits in young students but relies on good ol’ one-on-one attention

By Chloe Nouvelle

September 22, 2021

Students during in-person classes in the Whitehall-Coplay School District. Photo | Chloe Nouvelle / WLVR

This fall, the pandemic’s kindergarteners entered first grade. For some students, this marked a milestone: their first time attending school in person.

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In the Whitehall-Coplay School District, one-third of kindergarten students were enrolled in virtual programs for the 2020-2021 academic year, so they didn’t get the typical kindergarten experience. Instead of circle time, they had Zoom’s square box time. 

Jacqlyn Mondschein, a first-grade teacher at Gockley Elementary School, explained that her students have a unique set of learning gaps, including socialization skills.

“When we were going out to recess in the beginning, they kind of weren’t really sure. Like, ‘what do we do now?’ Because it’s free time and they’re all together,” said Mondschein. 

When it comes to academics, Mondschein said she’s spending more time reviewing foundational skills like printing letters and numbers. She said it’s important to get that right early because, for example, if a child consistently writes the number three backward, it tends to stick with them. 

Melissa Sommers, a reading specialist at Gockley, said social distancing made it difficult to teach letter-writing, even to the in-person students. 

“When kindergarteners are learning to write correctly, the best way to help them is holding on to their hand and being really close and helping them do that,” Sommers said. 

Last year, Sommers said teachers couldn’t do that type of close, one-on-one instruction as often, for safety reasons. 

In an effort to get first-grade students back on track, Whitehall-Coplay is adding supplemental programs to its curriculum this year. 

It’s a multi-pronged, complex plan, but the district is using a metrics-driven online program to measure students’ progress in math and reading. The results will help determine students’ individualized assignments and tailor their lessons to their skill level. Additionally, students will complete computer-based assessments throughout the year to record their progress. 

But Amanda Woolslayer, a math specialist at the school, said the district won’t simply rely on computer-based programs. 

“We’re going to add some pencil and paper-type things,” said Woolslayer. “At our level, we get a lot more valid data if we’re sitting with the student one-on-one.” 

The district is using federal pandemic relief money and state aid to help fund its new programming.

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