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Graduation options discussed during School Board meeting

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HARTINGTON — With May graduation wiped out because of the coronavirus pandemic, Hartington-Newcastle School Board members Monday tried to come up with options as to how and when they can honor the graduating Class of 2020. 

Recent guidance from Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts recommended that schools not try to schedule any graduation ceremonies until late summer this year.

HNS Supt. A.J. Johnson said the school should consider a date in late July or early August, but he said it is simply too early to try and schedule something yet. 

Johnson said Gov. Ricketts is telling education leaders that if these restrictions can be lifted, they will be lifted gradually in order to reduce risk of the virus once again spreading throughout the state.

Board President Jason Dendinger said he would like to see some sort of recognition for the graduates.

“I am hopeful we can do something,” he said. “These seniors have done a lot for the school over the years and it would be nice if we could do something for them.’’

Vice President Dana Rosener said she has been hearing from parents who would like to have the school set a date, so they can plan their own events by reserving halls, and make sure other guests and family members have ample time to put the event in their schedules.

“At this point, any date you set is a mere guess,’’ Lange said.

Johnson said an outdoor ceremony has also been considered, but even moving the event outdoors comes with restrictions, he said.

“I think parents want a date, but we just can’t do that right now,” he said. “I would very much like to do something for these kids. They have done so much for our school.”

Board members also questioned if some sort of virtual or live-streamed event could be held if the traditional ceremony is not able to be held.

Students and teachers have quite a few hurdles to get over before they even consider graduation, though.

Up until this week, HNS students had been using distance learning to review material they were previously taught.

On Tuesday, the school switched to more of a direct instruction format, rather than just going over the older material, Johnson said. Teachers will use Zoom to instruct their students in a modified classroom setting.

This will mean a more structured school day with class work being required from 9-11:45 a.m. for high school students, he said.

Johnson said he has been impressed to see so many teachers taking the extra effort to connect with their students.

“It’s been neat to see the way the elementary teachers have been able to get parents and kids involved,” he said. “It’s neat to see just the different ways the teachers are trying to get their content out to stay engaged with the kids.”

Elementary School Principal Sara Edwards said the distance learning curriculum is being tweaked.

“We don’t wish to overwhelm our families,” she said. “We want to still get our kids what they need but not overwhelm them.”

Several different instructional methods are being used, Edwards said. Some teachers have recorded themselves teaching in Google Classroom, while others are using Zoom to interact more directly with students.

“Teachers are trying to be creative but also active and checking in to make sure students are participating,” Edwards said.

Some teachers also set up specific times when they are teaching live so students can interact that way, Edwards said.

High School Principal Corey Uldrich said the school is trying to record every teaching session to assist students without internet, or those with poor or spotty internet. Those recordings will then be delivered to students on a flash drive.

Also Monday, the Board decided to change the grading system for the second semester and final quarter to a pass-fail system instead of the traditional letter grade system.

“You just can’t grade the students equally since they are not all being instructed the same way,” Johnson said, noting that some students don’t have adequate internet and so they are doing paper assignments or assignments from their Chomebooks instead of participating in live lessons.

The pass-fail system means no grades from the second semester will be used in determining a student’s final GPA, Johnson said.

“This will not affect a student’s GPA, but it will affect their credits, so if a student does fail a class, they will have to make that up,” Johnson said.