Online learning here to stay as JCPS faces teacher shortages and increased student needs – 89.3 WFPL News Louisville

Every year Amanda Turner, an English teacher at Eastern High School, asks her seniors to write an eight-page research paper. This is the longest article most have ever written. It’s a lot of work for the students and a lot of work for Turner, who has to give his opinion on the articles of his 110 seniors.

“It takes me so long to read each article because — they’ll tell you, they’re like — it looks like I shredded them with my pen,” Turner said. Once she has completed her markup, she schedules a conference with each student.

The process means it can take weeks for students to hear about their first draft, weeks that could be spent improving that draft and improving their final grade. So to get things going, Turner asked students to upload their first drafts to a new online tutoring platform called Paper. Students upload their essay and within four hours they receive feedback from a real tutor.

Jefferson County Public Schools made the paper available to middle and high school students this spring. It’s one of two online tutoring programs the district has started using during the pandemic and will continue to use it even though most students have returned to in-person learning.

JCPS Academic Director Carmen Coleman said the district’s new openness to integrating technology into the classroom is a “silver lining” to the pandemic.

Turner, who has spent more than two decades in the classroom, agreed. She plans to continue using the online tutoring service alongside in-person instruction.

“Where have the last 24 years of my life gone?” said Turner.

Technology and the teacher shortage

When the neighborhood was completely isolated, many students struggled. Failing grades were up across the board, and especially for students whom schools were already not serving as well: Black students, low-income students and English language learners.

According to Coleman, what students need now is high-impact, individualized instruction.

“We kept thinking about how we can provide that kind of support, and with a shortage of teachers, the idea of ​​doing it in person is next to impossible,” Coleman explained.

JCPS struggles to find enough teachers to staff classrooms, let alone find additional educators for small groups and extended learning. Enter: virtual options. The district has become more comfortable with them since the pandemic began. And he has money to spend. JCPS has more than half a billion dollars in federal pandemic relief funds to be spent by 2024.

The district is spending $1,286,000 on its contract with Paper over the next year. He also has a contract with another virtual tutoring company called FEV Tutor, which JCPS signed in 2021.

JCPS also spent millions in federal relief funds ensure that each student has a computer for school work.

“With virtual support, we can do so much more, and now that our students all have devices, it really puts us in a much better position,” Coleman said.

What do the students think?

Eastern High School senior Parker Drane said he received high-quality feedback from Paper. His tutor helped him make his essay clearer and more precise.

“It was originally, when I first wrote it, 15 pages of nonsense,” Drane said.

Her classmate Nicole Hicks had a similar experience.

“Sometimes you think you need big words in an article, but they showed you can still use formal language but more concisely, and that was really helpful,” Hicks said.

Hicks said these tips will help her when she goes to Berea College in the fall.

Nicole Hicks, a senior at Eastern High School, said online tutoring was helpful. But she thinks in-person learning is very important.

Coleman, the district’s director of studies, hopes the tutoring service will not only help students prepare for college, but also help them get into it. She said students can use Paper to get feedback on college admissions essays.

“We’re always trying to think about how to level the playing field so that all of our students have these kinds of opportunities,” she said.

But, like most technology, paper is only as good as the real, living humans behind it. It all depends on the tutor you get.

“You can either get a really good one, like the one I got, or you can get a not great one,” Drane said.

Drane and her classmates saw online learning take off during their high school careers. They were in second grade when the pandemic forced school entirely online. But Hicks said she still thinks in-person teaching is really important. In fact, his research paper discusses the disadvantages of distance learning.

“That bond between teachers and students is sort of lost,” Hicks said. “Because the teacher couldn’t see this student, they didn’t know their learning method, they couldn’t really connect.”

That’s why, even as classrooms increasingly integrate technology, for many students, say the researchers, virtual learning is still second best after in-person instruction.

Still, the district hopes virtual options will help fill the gaps created by a teacher shortage and emerging student needs related to the pandemic.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.