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Hall County schools add real-world topics to learning
Students take work-from-home courses on media, finance, safety
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Anna Turpin works on homework on a school from home day for Hall County Schools. - photo by For The Times

The Hall County School District hopes to expand real-world curriculum in the years to come.

Students recently completed such curriculum during scheduled and weather-related work-from-home days this academic year.

Courses included media bias, personal finance, CPR, first aid and bicycle safety. The curriculum is not required by any state or federal education mandates, but Superintendent Will Schofield said “this is something the board has said is important.”

Schofield said the curriculum is particularly vital for students from lower-income households who lack access and opportunities beyond Hall County, such as visiting museums and going on vacations to far-flung destinations.

“We can expand education beyond brick-and-mortar classroom walls ... outside of traditional school learning,” Schofield said.

It’s also a way to keep students engaged in learning when, for example, tropical storms and snowstorms blow through the region, as they did this school year, forcing closures.

“That’s precious learning time lost,” Schofield said.

The initiative grew out of a push that began a few years ago for Hall students to become the most constitutionally literate of any school district in the nation. Schofield said about 13,000 pocket versions of the U.S. Constitution have been handed out.

“We really have taken this to the next level,” he said.

The media bias coursework, developed in partnership with The Times, is something Schofield said is important to create civic-minded and engaged students, particularly as they prepare to graduate high school.

News coverage, particularly on cable television, can be skewed one way or another, Schofield said, so that “I’m beginning to think I’m living on two different planets.”

“We’re raising a generation of youngsters ... that can’t make decisions for themselves,” he said. “They just follow the talking heads. I think it’ll be one of the great challenges of the next generation to keep this democracy functioning.”

In February, Hall County tracked participation among students in the digital learning courses, with 63 percent of elementary students, 78 percent of middle schoolers and 66 percent of high schoolers completing some of the coursework.

At the end of a five-day period to engage in the coursework, 85 percent of middle schoolers and 79 percent of high schoolers partially completed the work.

And at the end of a 10-day period for elementary students, 90 percent had completed some of the coursework.

Eddie Millwood, a “digital convergence specialist” for the district, said schools are at different places in their digital capabilities, as are abilities of some students to access the coursework at home.

Student surveys, however, show that a vast majority of students found the coursework accessible and easy to navigate.

For example, among approximately 1,150 students surveyed, 910 said they “strongly agreed” they could easily find and log into the “Digital Learning Day” course versus just 33 who “strongly disagreed.”

And 782 students strongly agreed that directions were clear and the coursework was easy to navigate versus just 33 who strongly disagreed; 778 students strongly agreed that they could successfully learn online versus just 55 who strongly disagreed.

“Overall, we’ve had good participation,” Millwood said, adding that responses from students have been “overwhelmingly positive.”