The Student News Site of Altoona Area High School

School switches back to virtual for second marking period

Principal Andrew Neely discusses new schedule changes and concerns

November 25, 2020


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Going virtual. The school board decides to go back to full virtual for the second marking period. Students, parents and teachers have mixed feelings about the change.

Beginning on Tuesday, Dec. 1, the school will return to a virtual format after only having in-person classes for a week. However, this new virtual setting is quite different than what has been done prior. Principal Andrew Neely addresses the concerns and questions shared and asked by parents, students and teachers as virtual schooling will begin soon. 

How virtual classes will look for students

With these recent changes, students and teachers will have to adapt to a new way of learning that consists of classes everyday without asynchronous time.

“Students will log into their Google Classroom and their live feeds. They will basically go through their normal schedule online. It will not be like it was when we started the year [synchronous and asynchronous], it will not be broken up with every other day. It will be an eight period day and students will eat their lunch whenever they get that break,” Neely said.


How students will be receiving the same teaching over virtual as they would in-person

One of the biggest and most shared concerns among parents is their child’s education. Virtual classes can be challenging for many, yet Neely believes that the remote setting will be very similar to in person classes.

“Well this model basically, it’s kind of weird, but the only difference from doing it at home and what we are doing here with the remote is where you are sitting essentially. They aren’t going to have a teacher right in front of them, but the teacher will be on Zoom or Google Meet, and will be able to answer questions. Obviously it is not the most ideal, but currently with our situation, regarding COVID-19, we have to do this for the time being,” Neely said.


IEP and special education

Online education provides a challenge to special education students as well. Many of these students require in-person teaching, and without it, will struggle. Because of this, Neely and the special education teachers will make sure to tend to each student’s needs. 

“IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan, so it really comes down to an individual basis. Not every student will need the same amount of assistance and support as another one may. So we as a school, especially the special education department, are going to look at each student individually. They are going to make sure that if a student needs more time to meet with their teachers then they will do that, they will set up times and expectations as best as they can,” Neely said.

Despite the struggles these students and teachers will encounter, Neely’s goal is that the students receive the education they deserve.

“Virtual learning is not ideal for anyone, but in certain cases it is even less ideal. We are going to try to do everything that we can and make sure that they maintain their progress, and make sure that they keep moving toward their goals for education,” Neely said.

I promise there will come a day where we can all look back at this moment, and say ‘wow, that was awful but we made it,’”

— Principal Andrew Neely


How grading will work

Unlike the pass or fail grading system from last year, the school will use the same grading policies as if students were in-person. For some students, this may seem like a concern; however, Neely recognizes that many students do struggle with virtual classes and believes that if students continue to struggle, the school may have to change certain aspects of the grading policy. 

“We decided to start the year with keeping the grading policies the same as if we were in person. That is how the first marking period went. I do know though that I have some concerns in the data that I’ve seen about student grades. Some students are doing quite well and they aren’t seeing a change at all. Others may used to have straight A’s and now they are not quite at the level that they were at in the past. Of course there are also other factors that add into that. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it is because of the remote learning. I think a lot of it is going to come down to looking at the data and the numbers that we are seeing to determine if we need to make that shift or not,” Neely said.

When in a tough situation, like dealing with COVID-19, Neely chooses to have a positive outlook on things. He understands that this is a hard time, and wants to help students who may be struggling.

“This is a different world that we are all in and we have to learn to adapt. I promise there will come a day where we can all look back at this moment, and say ‘wow, that was awful but we made it’. To the students, I hope that they realize that they might be feeling stressed out, but everyone including teachers and their parents are also stressed out because we are all living in the same world. We might be experiencing it differently. It is okay to be stressed out and upset. If you need help dealing with those things, reach out because we are still here. The school counselors are still here and continuing to talk to students. We can’t change our circumstances but we can help each other,“ Neely said.


Addressing concerns about long hours of screen time

Because students will be spending eight periods a day on their Chromebooks to attend classes, many are concerned about the effects of these long hours of screen time. For Neely, he understands these concerns and believes that there should be moments where students will have screen breaks. 

“I 100% agree with the parents who are expressing concerns about the amount of screen time. I am a parent myself and I have two little girls. I don’t want them looking at the screen every day either. There may be times where a teacher instructs for 15 minutes and it will shift to something else so they don’t necessarily have to stare at the screen for the entire 42 minute class period. Hopefully there are some times in the students schedules such as study hall, so that kind of helps out too because they don’t necessarily have to be on the screen. It is a major concern of mine,” Neely said.


Teachers with online classes

Although students cannot return to the building after Thanksgiving break, teachers have the opportunity to teach from the building if it works best for them. 

“So the way that it was voted on, it’s that staff can come into the building to do their lessons in their classrooms so they can utilize our internet here at the school. Plus, especially for classes like art, tech ed and other places that need equipment to do demonstrations, the teachers will be able to come in. But there may be teachers who don’t want to work from home and they just want to be in a classroom even though there are no students,” Neely said.

Teachers will also be able to work from home if that is what works for them.

There are some teachers who have young kids, and their kids can’t go to school right now due to a lot of districts going virtual. Those teachers can continue to deliver lessons while being in the proximity of their kids to keep an eye on them. Obviously for teachers working from home they will need to make sure they have good internet and all of that,” Neely said.


Plans for lunch with virtual students

Despite this shut down, the school is still offering lunch to families that need it. The way lunch works during virtual is exactly the same to how it was done before students returned in November. 

“We will still offer for families to come in and pick up food. There will be information coming out about that. It will be just like it was in the beginning of the year. There will be an option for folks to come in. There will be a link on the website. Parents can come in and pick up supplies basically for the week. And it will be like that on a weekly basis,” Neely said.

I was ecstatic when we got to bring everyone back because I love seeing you guys. That’s why I do what I do…”

— Neely


Ideas for asynchronous classes in future

One way to reduce screen time with students is to limit synchronous days, similar to how virtual was formatted at the beginning of the school year. However, virtual will now be synchronous full-time unless any changes are made. Neely voices that if parents have concerns to reach out to him and the school. 

“As of right now, the school board voted that there will be only synchronous days. That is not to say that it won’t change. My recommendation to students and parents that if you are seeing signs that this remote setting isn’t working well for your child to let us know because we need to all be working on the same team to ensure that everyone is getting the best experience possible,” Neely said.


Returning to the building in February

On Tuesday, Nov. 24, the school board held a live meeting in which they voted on whether or not the school should continue the hybrid schedule or return virtual full-time after Thanksgiving break. The school board decided to return to school virtually, but they also made plans for the upcoming months. Whether the school returns to the hybrid model depends on the number of cases.

“One thing the school board did when they voted last night, is they allowed us that if things start to change with the pandemic and [if] things get back to where it is a little less concerning as far as the amount of cases in our region, then we can come back. Basically if we have two weeks out of the red and we move into the yellow, we will be able to come back. At that point we would probably move back into the hybrid model that we are in currently. If cases don’t get better by February, there would probably be another vote,” Neely said.

The district has been monitoring not only active COVID-19 cases but also the amount of people that are quarantining due to a possible contraction. This data will determine in the future whether it is safe to return to an in person setting or not.

“The problem we have, from what I can tell, is not just what we are doing in the school, it is also what the community at large is doing. Things like going out to eat, having large gatherings. All of the things that you are hearing from these experts when they are saying not to do these things, they say that because those things are contributing to the spread as well. We are all wearing masks right now, everyone in the school has been wearing masks which is huge, but that needs to be happening not just in school, but in the community at large,” Neely said.

Neely wants to safely bring students back to an in person setting, and hopes for it to be soon.

“I mean everyone wants to be back. I was ecstatic when we got to bring everyone back because I love seeing you guys. That’s why I do what I do because I like helping and making sure people get what they need. Right now it’s just not a great scenario because we can’t have everyone back. Hopefully, fingers crossed, that we can bring everyone back really soon. It’s going to take an effort, not just from the school and the students, but everyone else in the community,” Neely said.

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