Lack of blended learning leaves some San José students behind
Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced school districts to switch to distance learning, Polly Ferguson said her fifth-grade grandson couldn’t read or understand basic math concepts.
That changed after 15 months of one-on-one tutoring and online schooling. But as school districts phase out e-learning in favor of a return to in-person teaching, Ferguson fears all his efforts will be wasted.
Ferguson, 62, taught his grandson Zade Lineberry five hours a day at the start of the pandemic, hoping to catch up with the rest of his class. She has spent countless hours researching lesson plans and visiting Hicklebee’s children’s books to find books to teach her to read.
Due to his hybrid approach, 12-year-old Lineberry was able to test correctly when he entered sixth grade at John Muir High School instead of filling out random answers and waiting to return it. Ferguson said Lineberry improved further on the court. distance learning duration than in four years of being on an individualized educational level in the Unified School District of San Jose.
“Just being able to read and knowing he could read the science textbook was amazing for him,” she told the San José Spotlight.
SJUSD spokeswoman Jennifer Maddox said the district will only offer students two options this fall: full in-person instruction or independent learning through Liberty Alternative School, which has expanded to include all school levels.
In June, the school district announced that it would no longer offer its home study program because the current education code does not list it as an acceptable option. Families enrolled in the home study program had until July 1 to choose to enroll in the independent study program, complete in-person instruction at a district school, or enroll in a private school or chartered or home schooled.
Families who did not choose July 1 automatically enrolled their children in Liberty Alternative School for independent learning. Independent learning is based on the needs of each student and is taught at its own pace online, with a structure personalized for the student.
“It’s really a holistic approach for students that the traditional classroom might not work for,” Maddox said.
The move to expand independent learning follows a state bill that, if approved, will require all public schools in California to offer independent learning options to students who don’t feel comfortable returning to teaching in person.
Maddox said while the district does not yet have specific numbers, it expects more students to enroll in independent learning than the years before the pandemic. In a survey sent to parents in the district at the end of the 2020-21 school year, about 200 students expressed interest.
More information on how to enroll in Liberty Alternative School will be sent out next week, according to Maddox.
Although they are still technically within SJUSD, the students at Liberty Alternative School are isolated from the rest of the district. Students enrolled there cannot attend district events in person and are not related to a school in person.
Ferguson fears that offering only full in-person education or independent study will leave students like Lineberry behind. She thinks sending him back to school full time will make him fail again.
“It would be like sinking or swimming and we know it would sink, it would be just like how far would it go?” she asked.
But she also doesn’t want to enroll him in independent learning as she believes it will isolate her from her friends and community at school.
“The Liberty option cuts him off from everything, cuts him off from his school community and cuts him off from all the friends he’s made over the years,” she said.
Ferguson wants a hybrid option available to students like Lineberry, so he can attend school in person part-time to maintain his connection to the community, while having one-on-one support at home.
“My grandmother had me write this home school quote: ‘Nothing is impossible, the word itself says I am possible,'” Lineberry wrote in an essay reflecting her difficulties in school. “In my case, it’s true.
Towards the end of this last school year, Ferguson said she sent a letter to the district asking for a hybrid option. She received a letter saying that blended learning would no longer be available and that the district would discuss it, but never received a response after the end of the school year.
In the future, Ferguson is hoping her grandson can return to school full-time in person, but for now, she said he needs more time to grow up.
“I don’t have unrealistic expectations for him,” she said. “I just want some support for another year of transition for him.”
Contact Annalize Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on Twitter.