GEORGETOWN COUNTY — Alongside public comment that called for a change, Georgetown County School District Superintendent Keith Price said Tuesday night that shifting the county's high school and middle school students to "Hybrid Plus" would be a discussion item at the GCSD school board meeting on Feb. 16.
GCSD's elementary and intermediate schools shifted to "Hybrid Plus" on Monday, with students in brick-and-mortar classrooms four days per week.
Several parents indicated that the Hybrid Plus model would aid in combating ongoing concerns over mental health among students, as well as the juxtaposition of allowing contact sports but not four days a week in-person classes.
“Yesterday, our son was thrilled knowing he could go to school four days this week,” parent Susan Johnson said of her 5th-grader, and how her two high schoolers cannot share the same feelings.
“The longer we fail to think outside the box, the longer we do not pivot, adapt and take risks, the more we will see considerable fallouts.”
When Price announced the coming discussion at the end of the meeting, board member Pat DeLeone was pleased, and said she agreed that Georgetown’s older students need to shift to Hybrid Plus learning.
“I think we have probably done more positive prevention than most counties in the state,” DeLeone said.
This agreement comes amid a number of students struggling with online learning that was discussed at the board at the meeting Tuesday night.
In mid-December two separate programs, AmeriCorps and EngageSC, were tasked with helping these students, and the school board was given updates on the programs’ progress on Tuesday night.
Originally, the district identified 1,163 students who were solely learning virtually and struggling with attendance and missing assignments across the district, GCSD’s Executive Director Jon Tester said, though that number has grown slightly since then to 1,184. Upon this identification, five volunteers through AmeriCorps reached out to these virtual students or their families directly to identify the students’ needs, and the volunteers filled out a form and turned it into the guidance counselors at each school.
Tester noted that AmeriCorps volunteers are only responsible for making contacts with the students and families, writing the results down and giving it to the schools, and are not responsible for ensuring that students contact is maintained. Administrators, teachers and guidance counselors of the schools hold that responsibility, and Tester said that as of the time of the meeting, all students had been contacted by AmeriCorps volunteers with the exception of students at Rosemary, Georgetown and Harbors Bay middle schools.
“Overall I feel like it's been positive initially,” Tester said. ‘We still do struggle honestly with keeping them engaged or attending.”
Board members echoed these same engagement and attendance concerns.
Price said that data to see if the AmeriCorps program was successful are not yet available, as the second quarter just ended, though Tester said that some schools have indicated that the program has been effective.
EngageSC is a statewide partnership with the state department of education to ensure students have the tools necessary to be successful by providing them with intensive outreach, engagement and enhanced support. Because the state could only offer 579 free slots to participating districts program, GCSD decided to focus specifically on high school students who are failing more than two classes or who are struggling English language learning students. Fliers and emails were sent home to parents of students, allowing them to opt into the program even if they did not meet the criteria, which resulted in 602 students joining the EngageSC program.
Of these 602 students, EngageSC said its team of former teachers and social workers have made contact with 246 students, leaving 356 students the program is still attempting to contact. EngageSC representatives have three levels in which it classifies students, one being the lowest risk and three being the highest. They ask what barriers students are facing that are not allowing them to complete or effectively engage with school work, and based on the student’s level designation, will check in on them anywhere from once every few days to multiple times a day.
Data for whether these tactics have been effective have not been produced yet, but several board members pointed to shifting Georgetown middle and high schools to Hybrid Plus learning as a potential aid for the 602 students.