A closer look at Lincoln Learning: Part II

THREE RIVERS — This is the second part of a two-part series looking into Lincoln Learning, the program Three Rivers Community Schools is using for virtual learning this school year. Part I covered how students would use the program and discussed the use of TRCS teachers as mentors and tutors for virtual learning students. This part will, in part, cover concerns on advanced placement (AP) classes, special education, and how much the program will cost the district.

Another big concern for parents when it comes to how Lincoln Learning would work in the 2020-21 school year is advanced placement (AP) and honors classes for students. Sabrina Smallcombe, a parent with four students in the Three Rivers school district, said her seventh and ninth grade students were expected to take those classes this school year, and was concerned that there were no options for those classes.

TRCS Curriculum Director Nikki Nash said while AP classes will be available for virtual students, they would not be through Lincoln Learning. However, she said the district would utilize their current partnership with Michigan Virtual to facilitate those classes.

“In the high school, we have Michigan Virtual for some of our electives, so we'd just use that just like we would within the school,” Nash said. “So it's not a separate third party that we're using for everybody, they can take their AP classes through Michigan Virtual that we already have at the HS.”

Nash added that students also have the option to come to school for AP or honors courses if they wish to participate, and AP courses can be arranged through a TRHS counselor.

Another parent concern was how special education students who take virtual learning would be handled. Nash said those students would still be supported by their case managers.

“Legally, they're still our Three Rivers students, so they'll be supported by their special ed case managers,” Nash said. “They just have a different road as far as what course they're taking, but their support, their accommodations, their IEP team together will work with that specific course with the mentor to make sure they have the right course accommodations, then the special ed teacher will continue to support even though they're at-home learning instead of the classroom.”

Nash said those accommodations would be met by using Google Meet, meeting over the phone, email, or any other medium so that case managers can best support students.

There have also been concerns about how much farther ahead the virtual students could potentially get in classes than those that do face-to-face learning, and vice versa. However, Nash said the chances of one group getting ahead of another is low.

“[The virtual learning students] will have lessons they have to get through every day. They have a semester of lessons, so you're talking 90 lessons per course times six courses. If they were taking one or two at a time, maybe, but we're talking 35, 45, 60 minutes per course per day for six courses,” Nash said. “If you want to get ahead, it'll take a lot of getting ahead.”

Nash said mentors are required to check in with students’ progress, and if they do get ahead, they will discuss it with that particular student.

Content-wise, Nash said, students will be “getting the same content” as face-to-face students. In previous board of education meetings, it has been stated teachers in Lincoln Learning are Michigan-certified and will teach Michigan standards.

The cost of Lincoln Learning itself has been another bugaboo for both parents and the community. Superintendent Ron Moag said the district has budgeted $330,000 for the program, with the money to pay for it coming from CARES Act funding and coronavirus relief funds from the Michigan governor’s office and state House and Senate bills that were recently passed.

Moag said he didn’t expect the district to spend all of the budgeted $330,000, due to some high school and middle school students being involved in choir, band, career and technical education and dual enrollment. Otherwise, Moag said, classes for students cost the district between $60 and $75 per student, depending on grade level and the type of course.

Nash said the picture for Lincoln Learning is starting to look clearer, since a deal for the district to use the service for virtual learning was finalized only recently.

“It’s not like we're trying to withhold information to anybody, it's just being able to put a plan in place and getting it out to the community. We didn't have final plans with Lincoln Learning last week, that's why we haven't had a huge piece go out, other than we have this third party, we're putting things into place, we will still provide special ed support, we'll tie in our teachers as much as possible,” Nash said. “We're not hanging them out to dry, but we're also taking into consideration our teachers and their needs.”

While she did get clarification on some concerns recently, Smallcombe said she is still “trepidacious” about the upcoming school year.

“I'm kind of split, because my younger kids, I'm not worried about. I've got a huge handle on that. The older kids, I'm a little trepidacious. I think it will be okay in the end, I have confidence that the schools are not picking something that is completely worthless,” Smallcombe said. “I'm hopeful, and hoping for the best, but my expectations are low.”

Nash said the district is in the process of getting virtual learning students uploaded into the program, and said families should be getting login information from the district soon. She said she understands all of the parent concerns that have been expressed, and said the district still has good intentions in mind for virtual learning students.

“This is new territory for all of us, and the district has the best intentions,” Nash said. “We will continue to make sure we're meeting the needs of all our kids given our pandemic world, and know that if anyone has questions they can contact the district, and we'll do our best to support the family and students.”

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

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