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Marble Falls ISD’s remote instruction is a learning experience

Marble Falls ISD Wi-Fi-enabled buses

The Marble Falls Independent School District is working to ensure all of their students can succeed, even as the district has switched to remote learning due to COVID-19. One way is providing free Wi-Fi access at each campus and Wi-Fi-enabled buses parked at spots across the district, such as the Church at Horseshoe Bay. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Remote learning isn’t ideal, but Marble Falls Independent School District Superintendent Chris Allen said things are going exceptionally well, considering the circumstances.

“Our teachers are really interacting with our kids,” he said. “And we’re trying to be very mindful of managing the stress and anxiety the students may be feeling at this time for any number of reasons.”

Allen said MFISD staff is emphasizing grace before grades, balancing the importance of learning with issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The last time students were in class was March 13, just before Spring Break. As concerns grew over COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, officials suspended in-class learning through the week after the holiday. Governor Greg Abbott later closed Texas schools until May 4.

Allen hopes students and teachers return to campuses that day, but the district is preparing for a longer closure, even through the remainder of the school year.

Before the pandemic, the district had an emergency operation plan in place in case of a school closure, but it wasn’t designed for a prolonged period.

Still, Allen said MFISD is in a good position to continue at-home learning.

As a “one-to-one” school district, it assigns each student a personal electronic device, such as a Chromebook or tablet. Middle school and high school students were able to take their devices home during Spring Break.

However, not all students did, and elementary students don’t usually take theirs home. The district set up a pickup date so students could get their devices, and when some did not, MFISD delivered them.

“I think, right now, the number of kids who don’t have a device is probably in the single digits,” Allen said. “And we’re working to get those to them.”

The district also has a number of free Wi-Fi access points available to students and parents during the closure. Points are at each campus as well as via several Wi-Fi-enabled buses parked in spots across the district. A number of businesses, churches, and organizations are also offering free Wi-Fi access.

Allen said the district’s instruction approach is “do no harm.” He, administrators, and teachers understand the level of instruction during this period won’t be the same as if students were in class. Teachers are boiling down at-home lessons to about 50 percent of what they would leave for a substitute teacher.

“We know there will be a period of remediation when students return to class,” Allen said.

However, he said students need to understand they will have to keep up with their classes and lessons.

The Texas Education Agency is leaving advancement and graduation up to local districts. Allen said staff is working on the specifics. He pointed out that state standardized tests and end-of-course exams for seniors won’t have a role in these determinations. 

Teachers and staff will look at students individually to determine promotion and graduation.

Though an extended closure is never a good thing, Allen said this one happening during the last nine weeks has a silver lining. Many of the days during this period are set aside for standardized testing and end-of-course exams, so the loss of instruction time isn’t as significant as it would have been had a closure happened in October.

MFISD is working on plans to address students’ grade-point averages, something that weighs heavily on high school students as they prepare for post-secondary education.

Teachers and staff are also looking out for their students’ social and emotional well-being during this time. As teachers hold lessons and discussions on Zoom, a video conferencing service, they also have the opportunity to check on their students.

The district is working hard to ensure students have what they need to succeed. For some, it’s an electronic device; for others, it’s a good lunch.

“We’re really trying to make sure all their needs are taken care of,” Allen said.

MFISD officials also are aware of the added stress the situation is putting on families with special-needs students. Allen said the district has a hotline for special education questions and concerns: 830-798-3516.

It also has a technology hotline to help staff and parents: 830-798-3631.

“We’re fully committed to making sure students have the resources they need,” the superintendent said.

Parents and students can find resources and support on MFISD’s remote learning webpage.

“Most of all, I want the kids to know their teachers miss them, and I know the kids miss their teachers,” Allen said. “We love our kids, and we all miss them, and we’re going to do everything we can to help them be successful.”