'It's our students, our equipment': River Valley Schools keep virtual education in-house

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THREE OAKS, Mich. - This week on The Learning Curve our team heads to Three Oaks, Michigan - about 40 minutes northeast of South Bend.

Even though the River Valley School District is on the smaller side and could probably get away with holding all classes in-person, our team found out the school would rather be safe than sorry by adding virtual live streaming into the mix.

To avoid any problems with 3rd party online learning programs, officials at River Valley installed cameras so virtual students can get the same education as students in the classroom.

When you walk into the district's middle/high school there is a quietness as 25% of the student body has gone virtual. Although this school year looks different for teachers at River Valley, each day looks the same.

“I get here in the morning 730. Do my wellness check, which we have to do through the app. So I try to make sure I get that down before school starts, get my laptop going, get the school computer going. Make sure the camera is working. Covered all the technology is working, which that's always you know, cross your fingers and you hope everything's working that day. Boom, it's right into the first hour. And then it's just that cycle over and over again," Shawn Gedert, a high school math teacher said.

The day’s routine runs for the most part smoothly and school officials credit that to a camera.

“The biggest difference is that we're, we're doing in-person teaching while doing the teaching to virtual students. So each class we have a camera set up so that our students can see our live stream," Gedert said.

Educators at River Valley can teach their in-person students at the exact same time as their at-home virtual learners

Without having to switch over to a 3rd party online learning program like most other districts. High school math teacher Shawn Gedert said it’s a win-win for everyone.

“They're able to see everything that the students in-class are able to see, the one thing that they're missing is they don't necessarily get the, they don't get the interaction with their own fellow students as much as we can, we can do that through breakout rooms on the program. So those virtual kids can interact that way," he said. “So the virtual kids are getting the same information and expected to learn the same material that students are that are in the classroom.”

For Gedert, keeping that third party program out of the mix has only helped.

“If we had all of our virtual kids doing that, we wouldn't really be able to keep track of what's going on," he said.

"If we went to another virtual platform, like a third party platform where somebody else like Edgenuity, or Edmentum - there are hundreds of them, they own your student, you're giving your student away or in a lot of cases, there are other school districts that have said send your students to another district who has an online plan. Form. And so then they own your students. And that just didn't sit well with us," Scott Bojnich, River Valley Schools Superintendent said.

There can also be issues with those 3rd party platforms.

“So sure, and I think there's probably been some level of issues with almost every online platform that there is because they were never built to have this much volume of students," Bojnich said. "So it's really important that we're consistent, and we keep doing what we can do to help our students. And that online platform goes down, they're not getting educated. So we've been up and running, we have glitches, periodically, but our people fix those almost instantaneously, or with at least a short period of time."

But school officials say the best part of the live stream capability is that if need be, everyone can go virtual with ease.

“It also allowed us when we went to all virtual the last two weeks, it allowed us within 24 hours we were able to convert from being you know, having some in class on how to class to virtual to we went all virtual, less than 24 hours and really with no problems at all, because of these live streams," Gedert said. "So. Yeah, within it was actually less than 24 hours and we were the next day we were ready to go students logged in from home.

And even though it's not a substitute for being in a classroom, staff say this is a close second.

“We want to teach our own students, we know what is best for them, we know how they learn best," Gedert said.

“It's our students, our equipment, our curriculum, and our teachers," Bojnich said.

Coming up on Thursday, we’re showing you a different perspective - a student’s perspective from the other side of the camera.

As always if you have questions or concerns regarding your school district, reach out to us at learningcurve@abc57.com and we will try to get it on the show!

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