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Some Cherry Creek School District Students Falling Behind During Hybrid Learning: 'It's Frustrating And Heartbreaking'

ARAPAHOE COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) - Some parents and students in the Cherry Creek School District are frustrated with the district's hybrid model, saying kids are falling behind. While the superintendent says teachers have been given several support tools for hybrid lessons plans, some parents feel the school district should be doing more to help students and teachers.

"I see both kids have to not only teach themselves the subjects, but then do all the work by themselves. Teachers are supposed to be there on Mondays, remotely, and we are seeing them not there to answer questions," said Chandra Proch, a mom of two Smoky Hill High schoolers. "It's frustrating and heartbreaking."

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Like all who chose the hybrid model, instead of full-time online learning, her kids are in school only two days a week, and are at home the other three days.

"Teachers have been struggling a lot with this entire situation," said her daughter, Emmaliana Proch, a sophomore at Smoky Hill High School. "If you're in a social studies class, you're focusing on the bigger events that happened, but maybe some of the people that were involved in those events, they don't really talk about, and then it's on a test, and you're like, 'I didn't learn this.'"

Andrea Dailey agrees. Her son is a sixth grader at Falcon Creek Middle School.

"My son on Mondays gets to meet with his teachers for barely maybe 20 minutes, to ask questions, if there's no questions then there's no reason for him to log on the computer, so Monday's not a teaching day or any type of education being taught," Dailey said. "Sometimes work's not being posted in time, the work that is being posted gets done way too fast, and he's barely on the computer for maybe an hour and a half, two hours, and the rest of the day, no education, no interaction."

Dailey posted about her concerns on the Nextdoor app, and received more than 200 responses, some parents saying they're happy with the district, others also voicing frustrations.

"I was like, 'holy cow.' This is a really big problem, or a big deal, it's not just within one school, it's a bunch of different schools," Dailey said.

Chandra Proch believes the district didn't give teachers enough time to prepare this summer for the hybrid model.

"I feel like the decision to go back to hybrid was made very last second, we honestly didn't know until about two weeks before school started what was going to happen," Proch said.

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However, Superintendent Scott Siegfried says the school district had to switch to the hybrid model in late July when the state released its health guidance.

"The reason we have to do that is because of our older students, health guidance says they need to be up to six feet socially distanced, and we don't build schools for that, we build schools for kids to be close to one another, so we had to go to hybrid," Siegfried said.

But, he still believes teachers were given ample time.

"To prepare ourselves this summer, we developed online modules for our teachers, and we gave every one of our teachers an extra five days of preparation time, paid preparation days to be ready for this year, so they've had the means, the opportunity, the time, and the resources to help support them to plan for this year," Siegfried said.

Yet, Siegfried acknowledges teachers won't be able to get through all of the curriculum during the pandemic.

"There's no question that when you're only with kids in person twice a week in a hybrid schedule, we're not going to teach 100%," Siegfried said. "I'm more concerned about our middle school students, the developmental nature of where they are sixth to eighth graders and having to guide their own learning on those other days, that's concerning, so we'll continue to get better at it."

He says principals are helping teachers with lesson plans, and the district is making plans for the future on how to help students who may have fallen behind during the pandemic.

"We in Cherry Creek are starting a process of reimagining education, what does it need to look like differently?" Siegfried said. "One, because kids will have gaps, they have missed schooling, they have missed social emotional learning, they have missed those opportunities to engage with other students and adults. Those will be gaps they will take with them for the rest of their lives if we don't fix it."

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Proch's kids hope the school system will create clearer lesson plan guidance for teachers, so there isn't so much difference in work loads and teacher attention from one class to another.

"I feel like they need to be more unified in thinking," said Kristen Proch, a senior at Smoky Hill High.

Dailey hopes school will return to full in-person learning next semester, but Siegfried says that's unlikely.

"Hybrid is with us to stay until there's something that changes, health guidance changes, widespread vaccination," Siegfried said.

Chandra Proch feels the school system should have more teachers available to help kids who are struggling during the remote days.

"I feel like they should bring in, and I realize there's costs with this, but bring in extra teachers, have teachers that are always available five days a week for certain topics so these kids can go into a virtual classroom," Proch said.

However, Siegfried says the district is already struggling with a budget that was slashed by $25 million this year.

"We all have to remember that we're in a pandemic, and the state of Colorado just cut our budget $25 million, and we're anticipating another $25 to $30 million cut next year, so it's hard to put these pieces of the puzzle together when they really don't fit," Siegfried said.

He says the measures on the ballot asking for more financial help this election will be crucial to keep teachers on the payroll.

"Kids need us more than ever, and we start talking about the next year to five years, and they need us more than ever. I can't allow us to contemplate firing hundreds of teachers," Siegfried said.

Meanwhile, CCSD continues to monitor the safety of students and teachers during the hybrid model. To be required to go to a fully remote model, the district must continue to see a trend for seven to 14 days of unsafe conditions. To learn more about the school district's metrics in deciding the safety of hybrid in-person schooling, click here.

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