Remote learning likely to stay a part of Vermont schooling even after the pandemic

  • Endine Peters, 16, of Pomfret, Vermont, warns her pet rabbit Bungie not to crawl on her keyboard while doing history homework on Dec. 4. She splits her time between homeschooling for subjects that involve more reading and Woodstock Union High School in person for math and horticulture classes. James M. Patterson / Valley News

Valley News
Published: 12/11/2020 6:28:51 PM
Modified: 12/11/2020 6:28:38 PM

When schools in Vermont moved to remote learning in the spring, it was in response to an unprecedented crisis.

But in the future, Vermonters can expect remote learning to be among the education options available to students, and the state is working on that infrastructure, said Jess DeCarolis, who directs the state Agency of Education’s division of student pathways.

“I foresee that the expansion of that opportunity will remain and should remain,” DeCarolis said in an interview Wednesday. Remote learning fits with Vermont’s emphasis on individual learners taking ownership of their education. If a student works well remotely, and the courses available in remote learning address the student’s needs, then it should be an option, she said.

Learning online is “a vehicle for addressing all sorts of opportunity gaps,” DeCarolis said. Because it’s relatively inexpensive and widely available, it can cross barriers of cost and distance. That’s also a benefit for children who move between households.

“There are many students who have benefited from being able to engage in a virtual environment,” DeCarolis said.

Last month, around 14% of public schools in Vermont were fully remote, while the vast majority, particularly at the high school level, were operating under a hybrid model, with students in schools some days and learning at home the rest of the time. About 30% of public school students are studying fully in-person, DeCarolis said.

A promising as remote learning appears to be as a teaching tool present and future, there have been stumbling blocks, attributable mainly to the haste with which it was implemented.

“I think different systems have certainly responded with different capacities, depending on how they were situated” before the coronavirus pandemic, DeCarolis said.

The state’s home schooling population more than doubled this fall, and some parents have made clear that they would rather go it alone than continue with the nascent remote learning programs.

In some ways, fall was just as challenging as spring was, with school districts pivoting to reopening while also preparing for remote learning. DeCarolis said she feels remote learning is going better now than in the spring.

There are 12 “virtual learning academies” around the state, set up by school districts to teach students learning remotely. And many districts have signed up with the Vermont Virtual Learning Collaborative to provide remote learning options. The collaborative alone has close to 7,000 enrollments, DeCarolis said.

The state and school districts have more work to do, she added. Teachers can now choose to become online teaching specialists, for example. And Vermont’s concentration on proficiency-based learning and “flexible pathways” to getting an education make remote learning a valuable tool.

DeCarolis’s division of the Agency of Education oversees a wide range of programs that could make use of online courses, including career and technical education, adult education and literacy and dual-enrollment programs that enable high school students to earn college credit.

“We’re not a one-size-fits-all state,” DeCarolis said. Over the past decade, Vermont has been designing programs meant to help students get the education they need, noting that there’s not even a timetable for graduation. Remote learning is poised to be a part of that project.

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