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Parent Laments Online Learning Shortfalls

By Siana Emery
The Tube City Almanac
March 05, 2021
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Tiffany Wampler’s children are some of many in the McKeesport Area School District attending school virtually. Their father is considered high-risk for COVID-19, so attending school in person is not an option. However, they’re struggling with the district's online learning platform.

At February’s school board meeting, Wampler told directors about her eldest daughter, an eighth-grader at Founders Hall Middle School. Prior to virtual learning, she was an NHS student with consistently high grades. However, she has been struggling with the online program, and her grades have dropped significantly.

“I get letters from the school stating my children are possibly failing, which I don’t even understand because they sit in front of me from 8 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon,” Wampler told the school board. “This program is not working.”

Board president Joseph Lopretto acknowledged areas of weakness within the district, including the online learning platform. While he said that the district is looking at ways to improve that program, Whampler expressed concern that the process is moving too slowly, and that in the meantime, resources are difficult to reach.

Wampler explained that she initially reached out to the district on Jan. 28, and had been told a meeting would be scheduled within a week to discuss ways to meet her daughter’s needs. A month later, no plans had been made. Wampler noted that the only suggestion she has been given is to send her children back to school, but that is not an option for the family.

“I feel like my children are being let down,” said Wampler.

Lopretto assured Wampler that as a board, their top priority is ensuring every student in the district succeeds, and apologized for the lack of response. He mentioned that there are programs in the works to provide needed catch-up to students, such as summer school.

“Lord knows [the online platform] is just not impacting children the way it needs to,” said Lopretto. “I'm not gonna sit here and tell you it's a fantastic operation. But it was the only way we could manage without having synchronous face-to-face instruction because our teachers are focused on mitigation strategies and trying to instruct the kids in front.”

“We have to come up with a better plan. I'm sorry [your children] going through what they're going through,” Lopretto continued.

Other agenda items included the approval for the Technological Center to apply for a waiver of the NOCTI exam for 2021, due to the disrupted school year, authorization of budgetary concerns, and the approval of a faculty resignation.

School Director Mindy Sturgess gave updates on Project GAME, which was introduced at the January board meeting. The diversity committee met with students and staff to hear their experiences in order to better inform the development of the program.

The meeting concluded with the reading of a letter from the Borough of White Oak. The letter let the board know that due to budgetary cuts, they have decided to eliminate the crossing guard position at the elementary school.

Siana Emery is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh’s South Hilltop. She has also written for The Mennonite World Review, Goshen College Communications and Marketing and The Goshen College Record. She can be reached at sianaemery@gmail.com.

Originally published March 05, 2021.

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