Supers: Remote learning poses motivation, engagement challenges

PLATTSBURGH — Local school district leaders say more students are experiencing academic distress this year than in previous years, and remote learning has played a large part in that.

"We knew that, no matter how well we prepared for remote learning, it could not replace in-person learning in most cases," Saranac Central School District Superintendent of Schools Javier Perez told The Press-Republican.


Saranac CSD as a whole began the year remotely until Sept. 21, when pre-kindergarten through second-grade students returned. 

Currently, middle and high school students are in a hybrid model, while the rest have in-person instruction every day.

Perez said there is no denying the negative impact of remote learning on academic success for many students, and that the time they spend in district buildings increases their chances for success.

"Motivation is a challenge for many students when they are not in our classrooms. When our students are in our buildings, our teachers, staff and administration have many more tools that they can utilize to support and motivate students."

Perez said Saranac CSD has offered different supports for students since the beginning of the school year. That included the establishment of learning labs in September.

"We have worked with families to bring in any students that have had significant academic struggles — even if they were under a remote learning plan — and participate in the learning labs. We also invited any students who have had connectivity issues at home to come into one of our buildings to ensure a strong internet connection."


Perez's Plattsburgh City School District counterpart, Jay Lebrun, noted differences in the ways in which teachers can assess students this year.

"But the most common basis for these student failures is lack of engagement — some students who simply are not participating in their instruction or remitting their schoolwork."

The Plattsburgh school district defines academic distress as failing English Language Arts (ELA) and/or math among elementary students, and as failing two or more subjects among secondary students.

On Friday, the district notified families that such students who are currently enrolled in distance learning may be required to switch to the hybrid model at least through the end of each marking period.

Essentially, families of these students will receive written notification from their school administrator that, starting the week following 14 days from the date of the letter, the students will join the hybrid mode.

"Students may work to address these academic failures during this notification/transition period, and if failures are preemptively corrected, parents may petition the school administrator to remain in the remote option prior to their date of inception of the hybrid mode," the announcement reads.

At the end of each marking period, students who resolve their academic standing may return to the remote option.

Lebrun anticipates this policy will be in effect for the duration of the pandemic, and noted that it would be moot when the district is fully remote.


AuSable Valley Central School District Superintendent of Schools Paul Savage II said the causes of academic distress — including emotional needs, mental and/or physical health, financial issues and disengagement — are an even bigger issue during the COVID-19 health crisis due to the lack of everyday, in-person instruction and interaction.

He noted in particular the growing mental health crisis among American youth.

"The challenge this year is the fact that our students aren't always in person here at school which makes it even harder for our educators to recognize the signs of anxiety and stress, especially in our students who are fully remote," Savage continued.

"We have built-in times in our schedules where our counselors and psychologists push into classrooms to work with all of our students and with those who may be showing signs of distress, academic or other."

Savage said starting off the school year fully remote has helped the district in many ways, such as through training teachers on an online platform and helping students and families become more familiar with it, creating fully remote cohorts, and reallocating staff to ensure all students have a teacher to connect with.

"The students, families, educators and administrators are all working so very hard together during this time and doing nothing short of their very best to make the most of the situation at hand."


Perez said the best thing parents and families can do to help ensure students' academic success is to abide by health experts' guidance.

"Our area's health is the key to the ability to continue with in-person instruction," he continued. "I would also ask that parents check in with their children more often regarding their academic progress and their social-emotional wellbeing."

Savage and Lebrun similarly emphasized check-ins on participation.

"Communication will continue to be the key and we look for our families to be engaged and reach out to our teachers for support when needed," Savage said.

He added that students are always the first priority, and helping them requires an open and active partnership with families.

"We know this time has been excruciatingly tough for our families and we can't thank them enough for all they have been doing for their children and communities."

Email Cara Chapman:

Twitter: @PPR_carachapman

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