Photo via Lincoln Learning - Three Rivers Community Schools will be utilizing Pennsylvania-based online learning provider Lincoln Learning Solutions for their virtual learning option for the 2020-21 school year.

A closer look at Lincoln Learning: Part I

THREE RIVERS — Over 26 percent of students in the Three Rivers Community Schools district will not be in a traditional classroom for the upcoming school year.

Instead, 669 students out of over 2,500 in the district will be in what TRCS Curriculum Director Nikki Nash called “new territory” for the district’s teachers, families and administrators: Virtual learning through Pennsylvania-based education services company Lincoln Learning Solutions.

Since it was announced the district would be using a third party platform for those that opt out of face-to-face learning due to concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic, reaction from the community has largely been mixed. Some of the details that have come out since, or to some the lack thereof, have concerned parents.

One of the concerned parents is Sabrina Smallcombe, who has four children in the district in third, fourth, seventh and ninth grades. Smallcombe, a frontline worker at a local medical clinic, enrolled her seventh and ninth graders in the virtual learning program, but enrolled her elementary school students in the Three Rivers Partnership for homeschooling because there “hasn't been a whole lot of information coming out from the schools” about the virtual learning.

“There's a lot of uncertainty there, obviously. I know you need to be online for pretty much the entire class period. That was a big part of our decision to not have our elementary kids enroll in the virtual option,” Smallcombe said. “We didn't want them being on screen six hours a day.”

However, as students prepare to return to school in Three Rivers on Sept. 8, some of the questions and concerns parents like Smallcombe have about virtual learning and Lincoln Learning themselves are beginning to be answered.

Founded in 2005 in Rochester, Penn., Lincoln Learning Solutions describes themselves as a non-profit organization that offers “personalized online learning solutions and support services.” According to their website, they provide curriculum to nearly 250 schools and districts across 22 states and two continents.

Nash said each student enrolled in Lincoln Learning for virtual learning will have courses in all four core areas – math, science, English and history – as well as two elective classes. For elementary students, those electives are art, physical education or music, and for middle and high school students, it is a wide variety, from foreign languages to programming. Courses, Nash said, are aligned with Michigan standards and Common Core.

According to a Q+A sheet on the district’s website, elementary students will have 35-50 minutes per class period, depending on grade level. For middle and high school students, each class period is expected to be around an hour.

Another big concern for parents is those in virtual learning will not have TRCS teachers teaching the actual virtual learning classes, instead there will be a teacher from Lincoln Learning who will be grading and providing feedback for students.

“It's a huge concern,” Smallcombe said. “I have a child whose educational career has been unique, and to put him with instructors who absolutely do not know him and do not have the ability to have a conversation with him is very concerning.”

Nash said students will have Three Rivers teachers and parapros be mentors for students, although they will not be teaching the classes themselves. Nash said the number of mentors varies per building, but said one mentor will be overseeing around 80 to 90 students, and will have two-way interaction with the students each week.

“It'll depend on the building, but we do have classroom teachers and parapros as mentors,” Nash said. “We have had some situations where we do have some teachers who for different medical purposes cannot be in the classroom, so we're utilizing their expertise as well as parapros to take on a role that allows them to still be connected as a teacher.”

Mentors, Nash said, will also be checking up on students’ social-emotional support, their pacing in the courses, put grades and attendance in PowerSchool, and be a liaison for technical issues.

In addition to the mentors, Nash said there will also be tutors for the students, staffed by teachers in the district to help virtual learning students that need assistance with classes. This plan was implemented just this week, Nash said, due to community concerns about wanting the district teachers to support students.

To that, Nash said the reason why they chose to go with Lincoln Learning instead of using TRCS teachers for virtual learning is due to the desires of teachers to not mix virtual and face-to-face learning workloads together.

“One of the strong desires was following our crisis learning situation in the spring, it was very clear from the Return To Learn Team – which was myself with about 35 other members, they were teachers and principals that were part of that team – that we did not want to mix the face-to-face and the virtual together because of the amount of time and the difference between a face-to-face setting and virtual is a tremendous amount of workload for teachers, and that was the desire from the very beginning, to keep that separate,” Nash said.

“In the springtime, they felt they were on-call all day long every day, and they did that because this was new to everybody,” Nash continued. “They felt if we have face-to-face and virtual, it's a different path to go down, and their desire was very much to keep that separate.”

She added she understood the concerns from parents about not having TRCS teachers teach the virtual learning classes, but said teachers are looking forward to helping out with both mentoring and tutoring.

“I know the community had expressed that, and I totally understand, but we put out there it would be a third-party when we sent out our first infographic back out in June,” Nash said. “But, I think we have landed in a good spot considering the situation. Teachers are eager to help support the tutoring part of it, we have teachers that are eager to help the mentoring part of it, because they're still our Three Rivers students, just opting for learning at home. I feel like we have good partnership with the teachers to support our virtual students using the Lincoln Learning courses. Given the situation, we're in a pretty good spot.”

Part Two of this story will cover concerns on AP and honors courses, special education, and the cost of the program itself.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

Three Rivers Commercial-News

124 North Main Street
Box 130
Three Rivers, MI 49093

Telephone: 269-279-7488
Fax: 269-279-6007
General email: info@threeriversnews.com