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Sylacauga City Schools tackling the challenges of post-pandemic education with blended learning


SYLACAUGA, Ala. – In the aftermath of disruptions caused by the pandemic, the Sylacauga City Schools (SCS) system, under the leadership and direction of superintendent Dr. Michele Eller, has found new ways to educate.

When Eller came on board as superintendent, her first objective was addressing the educational loss created by 18 months of interrupted learning. Across the nation, math and reading scores have seen a drastic decrease from 2019 to 2021 according to a recent research study published by Brookings.

Not only was student performance down, but many teachers were frustrated by the challenges of teaching through new platforms using technology and live online instruction.

Eller’s approach to the learning loss began with equipping and empowering teachers with strategies and techniques to use technology and other resources effectively. This has been in the form of targeted professional development, instructional coaching, mentoring, and partnerships with educational and community organizations.

To rekindle the educational fire, teachers in the SCS system have participated in a year-long focus to implement blended learning in their classroom instruction.

Blended learning, a new concept that originated in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, is a combination of online and offline engaged learning to provide students with choice over the time, place, pace, and path of their educational experience.

“Teachers have worked diligently this year to provide learning opportunities that allow students ownership in meeting their educational needs,” Dr. Eller said. “The teachers have embraced this way of thinking and are seeking opportunities to make learning engaging.”

Dr. Jaclyn Rivers, Technology Instructional Coach for SCS, has been instrumental in this endeavor through collaboration with the Montevallo Regional In-Service Education Center. Dr. Rivers works with the teachers and students weekly to further develop activities that showcase each student’s voice and learning.

“My students have thrived with the blended learning experience,” said Amanda Bolton, fourth grade teacher at Pinecrest Elementary School. They feel the value of ownership, responsibility, and self-monitoring while they participate in authentic student engagement.”

As an example of blended learning’s implementation, Indian Valley Elementary teachers started using the learning management system Seesaw this year.

Seesaw, similar to Google Classroom, is a platform that allows students to share their voice on content learned with classmates, teachers, and parents. Students enjoy showcasing what they learned through the video and drawing tools.

Dr. Rivers and the Indian Valley teachers have participated in year-long training to learn how to utilize the platform to the fullest.

“It was fun to see the students take ownership and pride in their work,” noted Sylacauga High School English teacher Rhonda Brewer. “They wanted to do the work well and do it right so they tended to ask more questions and be more engaged with the assignments. They enjoyed showing off their hard work as well.”

Throughout the school system, the move to blended learning is paying dividends for both the students and teachers.

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