Education’s COVID-19 journey

English teacher shares their story

SIDNEY — It’s been a year since Sidney City School students went on spring break and didn’t return for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year because of COVID-19. During Monday night’s Sidney City Schools Board of Education meeting, Sidney High School English teacher Sara Olding shared the students and teachers path to today.

“It was 2:30 on a Thursday afternoon. March 12, 2020 – the day Mike Dewine announced a statewide three week closure of all schools. We didn’t know it then, but it was also the last day the class of 2020 would be together in the halls of SHS. The students at Sidney High School left that afternoon for a scheduled week off – spring break,” said Olding. “Friday, March 13, was a planned staff professional development work day. Preliminary plans were being set on how to manage what we thought at that time was going to be ‘an extended spring break.’ In a few short days teachers were building google classrooms and attempting instructional videos on Youtube. Thinking we were planning for a few weeks of remote instruction, we soon found out that we had to design a way to deliver instruction for the rest of the year to kids who may or may not have devices and who may or may not have a reliable internet connection. These were not easy times to manage, but I am so proud to be a part of this staff and the way we responded to the challenge. Rather than be paralyzed by intimidation, we embraced the opportunity.

“Most teachers learned how to teach synchronously and asynchronously. Teachers found some really creative ways to reach students. There were front porch projects, delivery of materials, 24 hour email responding – the needs had changed overnight and what I saw – from inside the eye of that hurricane – was a group of educators who rose to the challenge.

“This is my 26th year teaching high school. It is my 22nd year at SHS. I have filled many different roles in the English Department during my time here, but what is more important is I have collected all kinds of data that serves as evidence that good things are happening in my building and in this district.

“At the start of the 2020-2021 school year, the staff of Sidney City Schools was once again asked to adapt. According to data from ODE, there are exactly 121 districts our size in the state of Ohio. As of September 2020, only 16 out of 121 districts were delivering in person instruction five days a week. Sidney City Schools was one of 16. Our teachers made that happen. Our administration and cooks and secretaries and custodians and aides made that happen. We knew it was what the community needed and we delivered when 105 schools our size could not or did not.

“The same data reflects that as of just a few short weeks ago (February 17, 2021), of the 121 districts our size, still only 45% – not even half- were meeting in person five days a week. We have been delivering consistent in person instruction 5 days a week without closures.

“In addition to in person instruction, many teachers are also answering the call of students who chose the remote option this year. That looks a little different in each building. In my building I teach six in person English classes and live stream one class to remote students. The challenges of the last year have made me a better educator. I venture to guess that it has made most of us better educators. We have worked differently, stretched our comfort zones, and found new ways to reach students.

“Most of my day is spent teaching seniors. I teach College Credit Plus and other English classes. I have been teaching CCP classes since before they were called CCP, way back when it was titled Dual Enrollment.

“I thought it would be interesting to give a little insight into the CCP program. This program affords students the opportunity to earn college credit while in high school. It was the state of Ohio’s answer to solving the rising college tuition cost. The state of Ohio did what it usually does, and saddled high schools with another unfunded mandate as a solution to a larger problem.

“Each district would need to pay the cost of each credit hour their high school students earned. There is a ceiling and a floor to the cost. The ceiling looks like students leaving SHS in mass to attend a community college or even a university of their choice to earn highschool and college credits at the same time.

“The ceiling price for a district to pay is $166 a credit hour when the student leaves our campus to attend a class someplace else. If we can keep students at SHS with qualified CCP staff we can pay the floor price for the credit which is $41.50 a credit hour. That is a savings of $124.50 a credit hour.

“However, along with this unfunded mandate, the state of Ohio also mandated new requirements for high school teachers in order to be qualified to teach CCP classes. For example, when I first started teaching CCP I had a Masters Degree in Applied Behavioral Science. The state of Ohio required that instructors have a Masters Degree or 22 additional graduate level credit hours in the subject area they were teaching. That meant if I wanted to offer these courses at SHS, I would need to go back to graduate school and earn another master’s degree or 22 additional credit hours in English. There is no monetary benefit for a regular high school instructor to teach CCP. There is only a monetary benefit to the district. How much money? Well, this year – we have 156 students enrolled in the CCP program taking a total of 646 classes for a total of 2,016 credit hours. If there were no qualified CCP instructors at SCS, we would be charged the ceiling for these credit hours which would be $334,656. Those same credit hours earned at Sidney High School would only cost $87,399. That is a potential savings of $247,257. The 2,016 credit hours earned this year is a mixture of students who take classes here and classes at Edison. Our EMIS coordinator can break that down further if necessary.

“I know all of this seems like a lot of detailed information, but I think it is essential. One of my favorite authors, Bryan Stevenson urges that “You can’t understand most of the important things from a distance. You have to get up close.” What I know from my time in this school system is that most of the negative originates from a distance. When people get up close and truly dive in to try to understand the intricacies of the decisions that have to be made and the people who are doing the work day in and day out- they generally walk away understanding the positive.

“I have been living up close in this district for many years. There is a lot of good in the halls of SHS. I encourage more people to get up close. Get up close as you reflect on the last year and how much we have had to overcome as we still delivered instruction to our students. There are always things we can find to complain about, but as I reflect on the past year I see a staff that has adapted to monumental changes, a staff that was part of the small 13% in Ohio that was able to deliver in person instruction since September, a staff that finds ways to serve the district and the community.

More importantly, I see students every single day who remind me that understanding important things at a distance is not going to cut it- in order to understand anything important, we have to get up close,” Olding conluded.

At the end of her presentation, a “senior voices” video was shared which studets answered the question ”What do you wish more adults would say?”

English teacher shares their story