Hello GW Community –
Thank you to everyone for your patience and understanding as we examined our options for moving to in-person instruction. As communicated by DPS Superintendent Susana Cordova earlier this week, all schools are expected to return to a hybrid form of in-person learning for Quarter 2. The District also acknowledged that these in-person opportunities may look different across secondary schools because each school has a unique staffing situation, based on the number of students selecting in-person instruction and the number of teachers who have requested to work remotely.
Because of the unique circumstances at our school, GWHS has received approval from DPS leadership to continue with virtual-learning for the duration of Quarter 2, while providing targeted in-person assistance to students needing differentiated support as demonstrated by their current grades. At this time DPS is still asking parents to make a selection for either in-person or remote learning. As we will be remaining virtual, GWHS families will have the opportunity to change your selection when we are able to return to a large-scale and meaningful in-person learning experience. I recognize that this news will bring disappointment to some and relief to others. I hope you will read the entirety of this letter to understand why we believe this is the best option for our students.
On Tuesday we shared the complex set of parameters high schools were given to plan for Quarter 2 in-person learning, as well as the challenges we believe will prevent a meaningful learning experience for every student. While there are many obstacles, the Denver Health cohorting guidance limiting students to cohorts of 35, coupled with the 25% of GW teachers who have received remote-teaching accommodations, creates an impossible situation. Because every student has a unique schedule with different teachers, the only way to bring everyone into the building while adhering to the cohort requirements would be to essentially continue distance learning through in-school study halls. This would result in instruction time lost to traveling, and teacher planning time lost to managing study hall cohorts. Additionally, students and teachers would face challenges navigating the inconsistency of moving in and out of in-person learning as the need for quarantining will inevitably impact our school. This is not in the best interest of all our students.
As a Patriot community, we have committed to identifying and dismantling systems that are inequitable in our school. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted existing inequities in our society, and in our own community it’s underscored the variance of resources available to our students. To be clear – virtual learning is not ideal – we all want to be reunited as a community. However, online learning is impacting our students to different degrees. For some students, it’s unfortunate, undesirable, but workable. For others, virtual learning is a challenge that could become insurmountable and life-altering unless they are paired with differentiated and authentic support. It is critical that we equitably allocate our resources to supporting the nearly ⅓ of our students who are struggling to adapt to learning during a pandemic and as a result are facing a failing grade in at least one of their classes.
While this is not positive news, it’s also not unexpected – COVID-19 has changed the format of school entirely. The majority of our struggling students are attending regularly, but facing challenges nonetheless. Right at the moment when our faculty is finding momentum and time to provide intensive support for this group of students, we are faced with the possibility of pivoting to an entirely new mode of instruction. We are worried that an in-person learning opportunity for all of our students – that wouldn’t include any actual in-person instruction – will result in leaving a significant portion our student body further behind.
So, during Quarter 2, we will continue our targeted outreach to students who are demonstrating need based on their grades. At the same time our social emotional support team will continue working with students to address the increased need for mental health resources. We will conduct home visits for students who are experiencing challenges with regular attendance – we need to understand what obstacles they are facing and support them in a manner that is unique to each family. We are working with DPS to open a remote learning center for those students who need a safe environment with access to food in order to complete their schoolwork. Academic Advisors will continue to facilitate conversations with instructors to teach students self-advocacy while also ensuring they are meeting graduation requirements. There is so much we need to do as a school staff to ensure that each of our students is succeeding, and it’s only possible if we remain in a consistent learning environment.
We know that you are missing the extra-curricular elements of school that make it fun and engaging. We are excited to bring back clubs, pep rallies, spirit weeks, and special events. Regardless of the learning environment we are in, these events will be virtual. But if we are asking students to travel every day for two hours of study hall, and if our staff is preoccupied with ensuring that they are ready to teach in any number of scenarios, we will have limited capacity for making these special events as innovative and engaging as possible. We are excited to connect outside of our virtual classrooms and bring back the fun in Quarter 2!
As a community, each of us has a role in ensuring that every student at GW emerges from this unprecedented and tragic time with the ability to move forward. Today, that means committing to virtual instruction as long as the conditions around in-person learning remain untenable and inequitable. We know this is not ideal and that we are facing a long road back to normal. But we are strong, we are resilient, and we will find our way through this, together.
Kristin Waters, Ph.D.
Principal | George Washington High School