School district likely to continue e-learning through graduation

“We’re all committed to doing our best”

By Kendra Walker

Three weeks into transitioning to an electronic learning format amid COVID-19 closures, Crested Butte Community School is beginning to adapt to its new distance learning approach and will most likely operate this way through the remainder of the school year.

“Across the district there’s a really positive enthusiasm,” said Gunnison Watershed School District superintendent Leslie Nichols, recognizing that teachers, parents and students alike have had to take a crash-course in new and unfamiliar learning techniques.

“The partnership with parents is stronger than it’s ever been. We have incredible empathy for parents trying to juggle work along with assisting their kids with learning, some trying to do it in a situation where they’ve lost work,” said Nichols. “Our teachers are at a steep learning curve, jumping into all the differences between distance learning and learning in a classroom. I think we are learning how to go slow and to adjust our expectations of what we would typically think of as engagement.”

Nichols says teachers have been taking full advantage of video resources, issuing Google Classroom meetings and real-time activities. “Those are meeting with a lot of success,” she said. “Across the grade levels teachers are finding great ways to connect with their students.” Nichols says some teachers are still working from their classrooms for various reasons, to access internet, for supplies and to create videos for their students.

The district has also taken measures to ensure students can access those teaching videos and e-learning management systems. So far in Crested Butte, the school checked out nearly 100 computer devices and about 15 hotspot devices to families that don’t have access to internet service. “We’re fortunate that as a district we don’t have a big need for devices,” said Nichols. “Any student who has needed a device, we’ve been able to supply them with those.”

From an elementary school perspective, students are accessing the online platforms at varying levels, says principal Sally Hensley, and teachers are doing their best to balance between the online and “hands-on” activities.

“Probably 90 percent of our kids are connected and actively participating in the distance learning format,” she said. “The challenging part for us is students just being young and inexperienced on platforms like this, which is developmentally appropriate.”

“We’re trying to provide a lot of flexibility and grace for internet challenges and access to devices with the younger students.” Hensley also encourages any families who still need support or resources to contact the school as soon as possible.

Nichols says the district has worked out most of the access and device issues in Crested Butte and is continuing to work on access in Gunnison, where the schools are a week behind in the e-learning process due to Spring Break. “We are working with internet service providers locally and with CenturyLink to be sure that we’re getting our families and staff the best service we can,” said Nichols.

The superintendent also gives a shout out to local companies Spectrum, IC Connex and XtremeInternet, which have all been working hard with the district. “I think the internet service piece has probably been one of the most unexpected pieces of this situation, but also one of the most important,” said Nichols.

Another resource coming from the district is its Grab-and-Go meal service for students, free sack breakfasts and lunches. The meals are available for pick-up at Crested Butte Community School, and an expanded drop-off route reaches both Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte South. Approximately 70 to 75 meals a day are being served in Crested Butte, said Nichols. “That has been hugely successful,” she said. “Our food service staff has been phenomenal in coordinating. We’ll continue to work on that to make sure kids are getting what they need.”

The school district is planning to honor the school year calendar, with no plans at this time to extend into the summer. And while Colorado Governor Polis has not yet committed to an official order on whether schools will reconvene back on site this year, he has said it’s unlikely, said Nichols, noting “I don’t anticipate that we will reconvene this year; however, we have not made an official declaration.”

But the district is starting to consider how to make milestone events such as the prom, the senior dinner and graduation take place in some form. “Kids are still going to graduate,” Nichols said. “But we’re trying to conceptualize how that can still be a memorial event.” Other events, such as elementary school field trips, may get rescheduled for the fall.

The state has issued a waiver for instructional requirements and paused end-of-the-year assessments, including Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) testing, along with the school-day administration of the PSATs and SATs. “We really encourage our high school kids planning on that SAT score to register for the earliest summer dates the College Board has available,” said Nichols.

While local, state and national social distancing regulations surrounding COVID-19 evolve, the district continues to abide by the latest Health Order and operate with the health and safety of staff, students and families in mind. “We are still supporting our kids, actively participating and figuring out how to get the fullest engagement we can under these circumstances,” said Nichols. “We’re all committed and doing our best.”

For more information and resources related to Gunnison Valley Watershed School District COVID-19 updates, visit

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