Telegram - Serving Metropolitan Detroit Since 1944

By Renee Summers
Telegram Reporter 

River Rouge School District Among Many Navigating an Uncertain Year


March 25, 2021

"I think that I'm probably speaking for most school districts when I say that this has been the most unique situation we have dealt with in the history of public education."

The quote comes from Dr. Derrick Coleman, Superintendent of the River Rouge School District as he looks back and relates how the school district navigated the past year in the face of COVID-19. As in-person learning came to a halt last spring in response to the governor's orders, many schools scrambled to come up with a plan to keep students actively learning and engaged. Coleman says, "We were very calculated, we were very strategic; we respected the virus, and what we did not know about the virus as it relates to the public health issues that were present, so our initial response was to (use) the distance learning model."

Like other school districts River Rouge looked at the options: distance learning, wherein students and teachers are separated and lessons are distributed via packets of work and communication is done via email or phone call; virtual learning may or may not include a teacher present online and the student works at their own pace at lessons arranged as units; remote learning is used interchangeable with distance learning and operates as a video conference call with a teacher providing instruction. Coleman says the district maintained communication with the families to find out what they wanted and thought would be best for the students. "Our families helped us to determine what our model would look like," he says, adding the district included a hybrid model earlier this year, bringing students and staff back to the classrooms for four days each week, with Wednesdays being virtual learning only. No one in the school buildings on Wednesdays allows for cleaning and sanitizing of desks and classroom equipment.

"In the midst of providing the academic support in the distance learning model, we also had to think about the social-emotional, and the mental health of our families and students," he says, adding that many families in the district rely on the school for some basic necessities and access to resources. "You're not just talking about the academic aspect of education, but also how do you address the needs of the whole child, and the family and support them in the most disruptive environment we've seen probably in the past hundred years." The district has partnered with Gleaners Community Food Bank and Forgotten Harvest to support families who continue to struggle in the pandemic. United Way and Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency provide resources to support River Rouge families as well.

Coleman believes technology is in the school to stay. He concedes there are some students who do well with a virtual model while some need guidance from an instructor. "I would like to think that a majority of students in most places need someone that can help deconstruct and unpack very, very complex information," he says. He applauds his teachers and support staff for making themselves available to the students.

In all, Coleman says both students and staff have been flexible enough to become accustomed to the new model of learning. He says summer instruction is planned and will use the hybrid model, adding, "For the most part, I believe we are adapting well."


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