While schools in the valley are back to in-person learning, parent-teacher conferences are a different matter.
At some Cache County School District schools and at InTech Collegiate Academy, parent-teacher conferences were held virtually last week.
“It’s gone fairly smoothly from all reports,” said InTech Principal Jason Stanger. “The unfortunate thing is we don’t get to see our parents in the building. And usually parent-teacher-student conferences are some of my favorite days because I get to see so many parents and chat with them.”
This sentiment was echoed by Rachel Merkley, a teacher at North Cache Middle School. She said as a parent, not much was different about this year’s meetings because she usually only attends if her children’s grades are below Bs or she has concerns.
As a teacher, she missed the one-on-one interaction with more parents — but it wasn’t all bad.
“I liked that this new scenario allowed me to focus on the kids that truly need intervention,” Merkley wrote to The Herald Journal. “It was nice knowing exactly who I would be meeting with … (but the) 15 min slots limited how many could schedule. I usually connect a parent face with a name too, which encourages me to smile/talk to them in the community.”
Multiple parents expressed relief that there was a more convenient option in the virtual format, like Laura Jeppesen McGinnis, whose oldest attends Mountain Crest High School.
“I liked that we could do it from our home,” she said. “We didn’t have to wait in lines to see our teachers, and it just felt less stressful.”
Both Stanger and Tim Smith, with CCSD, attributed the ease of the transition to everyone’s familiarity with virtual conferencing formats like Zoom of Google Meet after months of the COVID-19 pandemic, though Cache also offered in-person conferences for those who wanted to go to the schools.
At Green Canyon High School, Monday was open for anyone who wished to attend, while Tuesday was appointment-only.
Jenn Weaver Franchina liked the push to only attend if students were struggling but said there were still lines to see her child’s math and English teachers.
“I’m more concerned about parents doing unsanctioned activities for Homecoming,” she wrote to The Herald Journal, “or HS kids going to school sick.”
In an email sent to parents on Oct. 1, Logan’s Superintendent Frank Schofield announced a similar “transition from a traditional parent-teacher conference to providing more personalized, regular, school-initiated communication with parents.”
Throughout October, parents can expect to receive a phone call from teachers. He said the virtual format is not only safer during the pandemic, but can provide more flexibility to families and create more regular contact than the traditionally scheduled conferences.
The Center for Creativity, Innovation and Discovery, Bear River Charter School and Edith Bowen Laboratory School are also holding conferences virtually this year.
While conferences are more optional in most traditional public schools, Laura Banda, the executive director at CCID, said students at the school each have a Personal Learning Plan determined at the beginning of the year.
As a result, she said CCID offers much more communication to help students achieve the goals throughout the year — and has even before the pandemic.
“We’re constantly in touch with our families,” she said. “Waiting until there’s a conference to let parents know a student is excelling or failing is too long.”
This is the same approach behind Logan’s transition, according to Schofield.
“We’re changing the emphasis on the regularity and frequency of communication,” he said. “We’re trying to move away from communication only occurring at a set time of the year to the idea that communication is more flexible and with more frequency.”
Similar to how CCID’s students goals can reach beyond academic standards, Schofield said the initial conversations with Logan parents will focus more on students’ and families’ wellbeing than grades and report cards.
While the majority of local schools are utilizing technology and virtual meetings between families and teachers, Thomas Edison Charter School will be doing its conferences primarily in person, with virtual as an alternative option.
Shem Smith, the principal of Thomas Edison’s North campus, said in order to comply with social distancing efforts, parents have signed up for slots online before they will meet with teachers next week. In the past, he said roughly 50-70% of students and their families attend the conferences, and as of Tuesday, about 40% had signed up for a slot.
Both Stanger and Tim Smith said the amount of virtual participation in conferences this year was lower than in-person conferences had been in the past.
“Usually we see parent-teacher conferences start off really strong in the fall,” Smith said, “because there’s a desire to meet the teacher and get established. Our lowest turnout is usually in the spring when we get closer to the end.”
Despite the challenges, Smith said a teacher he spoke to said the quality of conversations was just as good as if the conferences had been in-person.
“It’s a new way of doing things,” he said. “It may be something we look into, doing things this way in the future.”