A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

NTI Days require new methods of teaching, learning, but Kentucky schools are embracing the challenge

By Mark Hansel
KyForward managing editor

One of many unknowns in the world changed by COVID-19 is how teachers, students, and parents in Kentucky would handle the implementation of Non-Traditional Instructional (NTI) Days.

NTI requires students to learn from home until the restrictions put into place because of COVID-19 are lifted.

Joe Cordonnier talks to his AP Psychology students via video conferencing (Photos courtesy of Villa Madonna Academy).

It’s hard to say how the NTI plan is working at all schools in the state, but at Northern Kentucky’s Villa Madonna Academy in Villa Hills, the transition has been pretty smooth, so far.

“This is uncharted territory,” said Joe Cordonnier (Mr. C. to his students), a teacher at Villa Madonna High School. “In my 19 years of teaching, we’ve never really had anything quite like this before. As a father, sometimes my kids sick and I would have to be at home, so every once in a while we would Skype in and I could talk to my class that way, so we know it can be done.”

The Friday before schools were shut down, Villa Madonna had an in-service day to familiarize teachers with the Google “G Suite” program.

“There are all crowd-sharing type of programs that you can access from anywhere,” Cordonnier  said. “Students can access them, teachers can access them, you can work collaboratively and work together. I went ahead and set up all of my classes as a Google Hangout. 

Cordonnier teaches freshman though seniors and his students still meet at their regular class times.

“I post some work for them to get started on, or I’ll post video or an article from online,” he said. “At regular class-time, I’ll start a video call then all of the students join in and we discuss the video or the article. I’ve also been just keeping on with teaching whatever we would have been working on anyway.”

Senior Ellen Motley studies AP Psychology with her dog, Poundcake.

Google Hangout, allows Cordonnier to share his computer screen with the students, so he can still put up notes for them and he can interact with students.

It really feels in some ways, like we haven’t skipped a beat,” he said. “I’m a little shocked at how well it’s working.”

Still, for most students, NTI is not quite the same as school, but the newness of the experience has them intrigued. 

“The kids obviously miss being school and being with their friends,” Cordonnier said. “This is a way that they get to interact with them,  but at the same time, they don’t really feel like they are missing out  on lecture and lessons. For them this is equal parts education and entertainment, I think.” 

For the most part, the kids have been great and Cordonnier said they are participating every bit as much as they would in class.

“It’s fun because there are a couple of features  in Google Hangout where students can talk to you directly, or they can just type message to chat and everyone gets to see that. Some of the students who’re a little more shy are typing in more chat and engaging with the class more than they normally would.”

The feedback from parents has been generally positive.

“Some of them are having a little bit of difficulty getting the technological end set up, but we’re working through that,” Cordonnier said.  “They appreciate the work that the teachers are putting into it.

A mailbox was installed on Villa’s campus to allow for students to pick up supplies they may have left behind. A volunteer delivers supplies to students who can’t make it to school.

A mailbox was installed on Villa’s campus to allow for students to pick up supplies they may have left behind. Sr. Eileen O’Connell leaves some supplies in the mailbox. There is also a volunteer delivering supplies to people who may not be able to make it to school.

Cordonnier is also vice-principal and dean of academics at Villa Madonna, so he has been keeping close track on the progress of students.

“I’m actually communicating with all of my teachers on a daily basis, making sure we are moving ahead with all of our classwork,” he said. “I do have a lot of friends who are teachers at other schools and they have been really good about sharing what resources they have.

He praised community partners, such as Spectrum, which is providing free wifi to students who need it for making the transition a little easier.

“It’s just a matter of getting that information to parents, Cardonnier said. “What it comes down to is, good teachers are good teachers and no matter what, they’ll find a way to educate their students.”

Parent of three school-age children says ‘So far, so good’

Ann Marie Whalen admits she wasn’t completely sold on the success of NTI Days.

After the first few days, however, it’s “so far, so good.”

Whalen works for the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and can get her work done, for now, without going into the office.

“I am fortunate enough to be a working parent and my employer is letting us work from home,” Whalen said. “We have staff meetings every day, which has made my life a lot easier. I can be here with them and kind of monitor what they are doing with their school work.”

She is proud of the manner in which her children have embraced the new teaching method.

“Villa did a phenomenal job of getting them ready to manage this,” Whalen said. “They got in the car on Thursday and they were kind of joking that they had all of their books and backpacks and schoolwork, ‘in case we have to stay home,’ which quickly became the reality. So, they knew what to expect.”

Raj Patel (3rd grade) makes crystals for science class.

Whalen has a second-grader, a fifth-grader and a seventh-grader. The two older children knew right away to get online and get emails explaining the work they had to do.

It was a little bit more of a challenge for the youngest child, but she got on board quickly.

“She had all of her work and she knew she was still responsible for her math and spelling,” Whalen said. “They have been maintaining their schedule and I’m lucky enough that my kids are pretty independent. They get up in the morning, they get themselves something to eat and they start on their homework.”

The fifth-grader logs on to Google Classroom and sees what videos the teacher has posted, then plans out her day.

The second grader’s teacher sent home a word document, so she uses that as a guide and checks things off as she goes. As she finishes things, Whalen takes pictures and emails them to the teacher and the teacher can evaluate the work.

Quinn Whelan (2nd grade) and her sister Ainsley Whelan (5th grade) do a workout video sent by their gym teacher, Ashley Froelicher.

Whalen said her seventh-grader stays up in his room, and she joked that she has no idea what he’s doing.

“I know that they are using Zoom and Google Classroom and different things. The first day, it was more independent, (but) by day two, he had to be at his computer by 8 a.m., he had to log in to math class. Today he’s had a lot more video chat, online instruction and group chat, so I think every day is a little different for him.” 

The older children also help their younger sibling, if she has questions, which eases the burden on mom.

Whalen said her children are fortunate that technology allows them to keep up with classwork at home.

“I told them they are so lucky to have all of these resources,” Whalen said. “When I was in high school, there is no way, we would have had to come back at the end of the school year to make all of this up.”

Every day, teachers will also send the children emails. The second-grade teacher includes videos of her reading books to her kids, so Whalen’s daughter can watch that. 

Adam Kolar (8th grade) wears his school uniform during non-traditional instruction. His sister, Anna (6th grade), is not so formal.

“They have been sending gym class videos, and for art class, they have to draw pictures of what it’s like to have school from home, so everything is coming back to that,” Whalen said. “It’s helping them to process what’s happening.”

Whalen also tries to get the kids out of the house for a walk every day, while maintaining social distancing. She also gets a carry-out meal every day to support local businesses and so her children understand the importance of that.

She has been telling her kids that schooling from home could go on much longer.

“I think it’s important that we keep them informed, so they are not shocked if we have to do longer instruction,” she said. “We see how things are changing every day, and you don’t know what the day is going to hold.”

Right now Whalen is confident that at the end of the school year, her children will get the instruction they need to move forward, which is the most important thing.

“I so much appreciate all of this communication, because I know that it takes a lot of work for them to get al of this ready and to make sure they are hitting those benchmarks,” Whalen said. “I love how the teachers are changing it day by day because they are learning just as much as we are.”

Junior Aidan Collins never lets a holiday go by without fanfare. St. Patrick’s Day is no different. He is doing his NTI work in leprechaun gear.

Contact Mark Hansel at mark.hansel@nkytrib.com

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