The first small groups of students have already begun meeting within the buildings of Frederick County Public Schools, according to an update given to the Board of Education Wednesday.

When the board settled last month on the final version of the reopening plan for the fall semester, it came with a condition that FCPS staff identify small groups of students to receive face-to-face instruction.

At that time, it had been suggested that these students be those whose education might be severely impacted without in-person instruction such as special education students, English Language Learner students and the county’s youngest learners.

Jamie Aliveto, executive director of System Accountability and School Administration for FCPS, told the board on Wednesday that staff identified three focus areas for the small groups: access; program, course and/or service requirements; and performance.

The access group focused on students who either lack internet access or face obstacles that prevent them from actively engaging with virtual learning. The program, course, and/or service requirement group focused on special education students, English Language Learner students, or students enrolled in courses at the Career and Technology Center.

These students need face-to-face instruction based on either the nature of their class, their needs, or legal requirements for certain services.

The third focus area of performance looked at students who may need additional academic support or intervention.

“As we identify new students who may need additional support, we could begin to think about bringing them in for extended learning opportunities,” Aliveto said.

Each school has an afternoon block of time, and every school has received funding for the tutoring so they can provide support to students beyond the day, Aliveto said.

The school system has identified 295 small groups thus far. Students are identified by their own school and invited to participate.

The first small groups who began coming into buildings were in the access category. They were identified prior to the start of the school year and continue to be identified now, said Aliveto. These students began coming on the first day of school and continue to be added as needs arise.

Aliveto said only a handful of the 295 identified groups fall into this category, and most of these students do not need a teacher present but simply need someone to assist them in getting online.

“Typically, it is ‘I need a staff member who can make sure I can log in, I can get on Google Meet, I can get on Schoology’...and so very often we are able to find an [instructional assistant] who can support that,” Aliveto said.

The second wave of groups—those in the program, course, and/or service requirement focus area—are slated to begin coming into buildings on Sept. 14.

The challenge, however comes with the third focus area. Aliveto said there are currently not enough staff who have volunteered to come into schools to supervise and help these students.

A survey given to staff last month indicated that only 21 percent are willing to come into buildings and volunteer to help with small groups.

About 40 percent said they are not willing to volunteer and 38 percent said maybe.

Aliveto said many staff members in the “maybe” group had questions surrounding logistics and added she is confident that many of those “maybes” have turned into yeses.

“Sometimes it had to do with their own home situation and child care situation, sometimes it had to do with what are the safety protocols...I do believe a number of those 38 percent have now said yes,” she said.

Due to this staffing challenge, as of now, only students who are identified in one of the first two groups could also be invited to participate in further in-person academic support or extended learning opportunities.

On average, about two to six percent of each school’s enrollment falls within one of the three identified focus areas. Aliveto said and as of now, FCPS is keeping the groups to a very small size of about two to four students.

Students who are part of the small groups are provided meals at school and attend either a morning, afternoon or full-day session depending on their needs. Most students in the “access” category attend for a full day.

After Aliveto’s presentation, board members had minimal questions and only asked for clarification on certain points or had simple logistical inquiries.

It is unclear whether more school-based staff will volunteer throughout the semester to aid in small-group instruction and whether that will be enough to expand the numbers of identified students. Aliveto also pointed out that parent permission will impact how many students actually end up coming into buildings.

Follow Katryna Perera on Twitter:

@katrynajill.

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