• Mary Harrison

GOALS students return to campus on Tuesday

GOALS logo, courtesy of The Cairo Messenger

If you were paying attention to your social media feed in 2020, chances are that you heard something about “virtual school.” With the novel coronavirus pandemic ongoing, many students opted to remain at home this past semester to prevent potential COVID-19 exposure. Grady County School District’s virtual school program was reorganized as the Grady Online Academy of Learning Scholars (GOALS) to better manage the influx of kids staying at home during the fall of 2020.

GOALS is the virtual school branch of all schools in the Grady County School District. Dr. Gloria Fuller is Cairo High School’s Virtual School Director, working with students to ensure they are successful. The Red & Black sat down with Dr. Fuller in December to learn more about how the GOALS program works for high school students.

Dr. Fuller said that, by order of Grady County Schools Superintendent Dr. Kermit Gilliard, all students who are currently in GOALS must return to face-to-face instruction at the beginning of the second semester, on Tues., January 19, 2021, unless they were successfully enrolled in virtual school before the pandemic.

“Students that have medical conditions or live in the home with someone with medical conditions... can provide some documentation and they can be exempt [from returning to campus]," Dr. Fuller also explained.

With the return to campus comes a return to an almost-normal school day. For the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year, each CHS teacher was assigned a virtual class of GOALS students in addition to their regular rosters of face-to-face students. Because other schools had large numbers of virtual students, as well, until November, the entire district released students at 2 p.m. so that teachers could make contact, assist, and grade assignments for their virtual students from 2:15 to 3:15 p.m., according to English and journalism instructor Mr. Layton Smith.

As most students will be required to return to the CHS campus, the school day will be extended to 2:30 p.m. next semester. Dr. Fuller says there is a possibility that the role of tutoring all virtual students will be returned to her, as it was before the pandemic.

Although Dr. Fuller's office is housed at the back of the Grady Educational Center, she clarified that GOALS is not the same program as Crossroads Alternative School. Crossroads is only for students with disciplinary tribunals; GOALS was available to any student looking to take classes from home.

Spring calendar for Grady County Schools, showing that CHS students will begin their second semester classes after returning from the MLK holiday.

The school system updated the virtual school curriculum from OdysseyWare to Edmentum for the 2020-2021 school year, Dr. Fuller said, because educators were trying to find a program that was suitable for students of all grades, instead of just grades 3-12. The CHS Virtual School Director indicated that as of early December, the virtual school curriculum would continue through Edmentum, even after schooling returns to normal.

GOALS was made accessible to learners with exceptionalities as well, though Dr. Fuller says the Edmentum curriculum was not assigned to students with severe physical disabilities. Inclusion students were assigned a teacher to support them in addition to the teacher managing their Edmentum classes, just as they would have in a physical classroom.

The way GOALS students view their grades through Edmentum is slightly different than how they view them in Power School, Business and Technology teacher Mrs. Cecilia Childree later elaborated. A student's "current grade" is based on the assignments they had submitted, as one would view their grade in Power School. However, Edmentum would also calculate a "course grade," which included zeroes for all uncompleted assignments. This acted as a progress marker and would be different than the current grade until the entire course is finished.

While the faculty tried to offer as many CHS courses online as possible, “some of the vocational electives are not offered in Edmentum," Dr. Fuller explained.

"They either have to take those classes on-campus or those teachers can offer it through Google Classroom.”

Grady County virtual students would typically come onto campus to take these CHS-only electives, but they were not allowed to during the pandemic. Dr. Fuller said that whether such classes were offered to GOALS students depended on whether the teacher could set up a Google Classroom, such as has been done for Band, NJROTC, and Chorus classes; she acknowledged that some hands-on courses, like Mr. Russell Childs' automotive classes, would not be easy to offer virtually.

Other high school courses that had to be offered through a learning application other than Edmentum were Advanced Placement (AP) and Honors-level courses. Students enrolled in these classes would complete and submit assignments through Google Classroom and join in a Zoom call during the regular class time to receive daily instruction along with their on-campus peers.

Although teachers did not have to assign their own instructional material to virtual students, they could choose to omit certain Edmentum assignments or customize the weighting of assignment categories in the grade calculations for their classes.

According to Dr. Fuller and media specialist Mrs. Jenny Harrison, academic Edmentum classes are considered "Level 2" classes when calculating a student's weighted Grade Point Average (GPA), which determines each class's Valedictorian and Salutatorian. However, Honors/AP and dual enrollment courses are weighted normally when determining a virtual student's GPA.

To learn more about the GOALS program offered this past semester, view the orientation video the school district put together for virtual students, or visit the GOALS website.

#GOALS #virtualschool #2021schoolyear #covid19pandemic #covid19precautions