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Appleton Area School District bringing small, select groups back into classroom

AASD starts new model of virtual learning
Posted at 10:58 PM, Oct 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-26 23:58:51-04

APPLETON (NBC26) -- The Appleton Area School District is slowly transitioning some students back to in-person learning in an effort to better support kid's mental health during the pandemic.

The district's leadership team presented the "Fully Virtual Plus" model to the Board of Education at its meeting Monday.

"It gives us hope, and hope is a very powerful word," said Ben Vogel, high school assistant superintendent of AASD.

The new model will roll out in phases. Educators will identify certain groups that aren't learning as well virtually as they could in-person. Following safety protocols, these groups will partially return to the classroom.

The first phase started Monday with level one and two English learners back in the building.

Other targeted groups include literacy intervention, at-risk support programs, sports and specialty skills that would be difficult to do in an in-home environment, such as welding or band practice.

"All these opportunities those are so important to our students, to their social-emotional and physical well-being, and we believe that that's such an important part of their experience," Vogel said.

This plan comes after some instructors, parents and students expressed concerns over the academic aspects of virtual learning and how it's impacting kid's mental health.

The school district partners with Samaritan Counseling Center for a Community Connected Wellness Screen that alerts potential mental health concerns among students.

Of 112 high school students screened, nearly 26 percent had a positive screen rate, meaning they expressed a mental health concern. Ninety-six elementary students were screened, with almost 22 percent coming back with a positive screen rate.

Those results are based off electronic responses within a five-week period. The center sent out hard copies of the tool on Oct. 16.

The director of the Samaritan Counseling Center said the positive screen rates are average to what they normally see in school districts, although the pandemic has caused an increase for feelings of anxiety and depression.

"Some kids are struggling. We don't want to wait until the quarter ends and we look at grades," said Greg Hartjes, chief financial officer with Appleton Area School District. "We want to start right now with some of those kids already - most students we know are struggling."

Although the district is still in a high-risk category for full in-person learning according to the CDC's instructional model, administrators said their mitigation strategies are under control and can slowly layer students back into buildings.

Students will be able to opt in or out of in-person learning and it won't affect their grade.

School board members said this will be a great opportunity for the district to test its mitigation strategies. They said if this new model doesn't work, they'll "shut it down."