Battle Ground schools Parent Academy helps families navigate kids’ virtual learning

Cassondra Smith’s office looks more like a semi-pro film studio these days, complete with a glowing ring light and heavy-duty microphone.

The Vancouver woman is an educational technology coach for Battle Ground Public Schools, a job whose pandemic purpose is evident in her title. Usually, Smith is working to help teachers navigate their classroom websites and digital assignments. In this time of virtual learning from home, she’s busier than ever.

“With distance learning it is very challenging trying to get students to access their assignments, to connect with their teachers,” Smith said. “Things are just brand new right now.”

For frazzled families, there can be no greater barrier to virtual learning than connecting to classes. It’s why Battle Ground Public Schools launched its Parent Academy program this school year, giving parents class work of their own to help them navigate virtual learning.

Smith is among those teachers spending a few hours every week with parents, answering questions and walking them through the applications and tools students are using in class.

“These unique times have created some unique challenges and unique opportunities,” said David Kennedy, the district’s director of professional learning. “How can we better support our parents in navigating this?”

Families have attended classes about 400 times in the last two weeks, with the district planning additional coursework in the weeks to come. The district will email parents directly with additional coursework.

“It’s overwhelming for the teachers, for the parents, for the students,” Kennedy said. “It’s definitely not anything any of us signed up for. This is something we can put forth into our community as support.”

About 80,000 students in Clark County will continue with digital learning through at least late October after coronavirus transmission rates climbed into high-risk territory on Tuesday.

Clark County’s COVID-19 transmission rate is 76.15 new cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period. The state Department of Health advises that schools in counties with transmission rates above 75 new cases per 100,000 residents continue with online learning.

Clark County Public Health has advised that schools remain closed until transmission rates remain moderate — between 50 and 75 new cases per 100,000 residents — for three weeks. Even then, however, students will return in a hybrid model, doing some coursework in school and some from home.

If transmission rates drop, Battle Ground is eyeing Oct. 13 and 15 for primary school students, with hybrid learning beginning Oct. 19. Middle and high school students are expected to start in November.

In the meantime, district officials hope the Parent Academy will help ease the burden of virtual learning.

“What we’re trying to do is give parents as many tools and resources as possible to make this as smooth and as successful a distance learning experience as it can be,” Smith said.

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