“Like everybody else, it’s been a real roller coaster of a school year, and roller coaster since last March 13th, when we were all sent home. We’ve had various instructional models.”
“We knew that we were going to have to come up with resources and do things differently than we’ve ever done them before.”
“That certainly is something that, again, going back to last March, making sure that everyone had internet access, making sure that everybody had access to Chromebooks and tools, make sure that they’re learning online while they’re home, and then making sure that they have the best possible home environment to keep up with everybody else.”
“And, with the pandemic, when our students are learning remotely or in a hybrid model, they need those supports and resources, and they might be learning at different times. And I think that’s one thing that PAPER has brought to the table is that they allow the student to get that extra help whenever it’s best for them.”
“ELA and math are certainly two of the top things, but I’ve seen foreign language, I’ve seen physics, I’ve seen general science, really a lot of different areas that they’re able to help our students with.”
“It’s allowed our teachers to differentiate their instruction and their expectations for different students.”
“I kind of equate it to almost having an extra teacher or a classroom aid in their classroom, because now these students are able to go out and get that extra help. And then, the teacher not only sees the benefit of the student understanding the concept, but they see what it is that their students are struggling with, and they’re getting that feedback from PAPER.”
“It’s not often that programs kind of go across all of your student population, and that’s what I really like about PAPER is that every one of our students can receive that benefit.”
“And that’s where I think a growth area for us, is to continue to push that information out and allow all the students to know how effective this can be, especially for our students that are learning remotely that don’t have the resources to be in the classroom right now.”
Q: Could you start by telling us a little bit about the district’s instructional models throughout this academic year? What have those looked like?
A: Sure. Like everybody else, it’s been a real roller coaster of a school year, and roller coaster since last March 13th, when we were all sent home. But we’ve had various instructional models. To start off the school year, we actually, here in Richland school district, our first 53 days were all on-site, full time, so that was nice. And we were able to get off to a good start to our year. Our area wasn’t as impacted early on, that August, September, October timeframe, as some of the other parts of the state. So, those first 53 days we were all on-site. About 90% of our students were coming to school. About 10% of our students elected to learn remotely, which certainly it was a challenge for them and a challenge for our staff, but we wanted to support them in what mode they wanted to learn.
Since then, we’ve been in a combination of all fully-remote and hybrid. Currently, we’re wrapping up a hybrid, where all of our students, K through 12, are attending two days per week then learning from home the other three days per week. We’re actually, on February 1st, scheduled to go back fully on-site once again, and we’re looking forward to having everybody here in school.
Q: So, when did you become aware… I mean, certainly, tutoring is not a new program, but when did you become aware of the need to implement some sort of tutoring or supplemental learning system for your students in this present scenario?
A: I think it was as early as last March. Our administrative team recognized that this had the potential to be something that was going to really create a divide within the students here in our school and throughout the state and throughout the country. So, we knew that we were going to have to come up with resources and do things differently than we’ve ever done them before. And one of those resources was to create some type of a tutoring program, whether it’s on-site, whether it’s online, and this is just one of the various things that we’re doing to support those kids and also their families, which you’re all going through very difficult times.
Q: And is there a role that equity has played in the district, seeking out these types of services?
A: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we’re fortunate, first off, most of our students here come from a background where they’re supported at home, but certainly, like all schools, we have a segment of our population that needs a little bit of extra help and assistance to make sure that there is equity there and that they do have the same opportunities as everybody else. So that certainly is something that, again, going back to last March, making sure that everyone had internet access, making sure that everybody had access to Chromebooks and tools, make sure that they’re learning online while they’re home, and then making sure that they have the best possible home environment to keep up with everybody else.
We’ve actually, within our school district, we’re a K through six and a seven through 12, we have two buildings, and in each of our buildings, we have taken one of our classroom teachers and pushed them into a remote learning specialist role, where those teachers now are making sure that those students have the resources they need and are keeping up with everybody else.
Q: And can you tell us about the organization called PAPER? What has been your experience working with this organization?
A: Yeah, I mean, PAPER was something that just took a cold call from a sales rep in September, and it sounded like it was something that would be beneficial to kids, and set up some demonstrations, did our research. It’s a product that is used in Texas and California, but not so much here in our state, in Pennsylvania. So, we had the opportunity to kind of collaborate with them, and they’ve been a great partner thus far, and we really feel that our students and families, and also teachers, are benefiting from the program.
Q: So, you’ve seen the impact, or you’ve seen the difference in student performance, do you feel?
A: Yeah. I think that all of our students and all of our families know that there’s a 24/7 access. Our teachers aren’t available. Our teachers are phenomenal here in Richland school district, but they’re not available 24/7.
And, with the pandemic, when our students are learning remotely or in a hybrid model, they need those supports and resources, and they might be learning at different times. And I think that’s one thing that PAPER has brought to the table is that they allow the student to get that extra help whenever it’s best for them. A lot of our students that learn remotely, we’ll see them go on at 11, 12 at night, sometimes, 1:00 AM 2:00 AM in the morning, getting help. And certainly our teachers here at Richland aren’t probably awake at those times.
Q: No, nor should they be. They need to rest up for the next day, I imagine. So, the timing that makes sense, 24/7, are there certain subjects that are most sought after by the students, that you’re noticing?
A: Yeah. So, this is relatively new to us at Richland, and like I said, we’re the first school in Pennsylvania to have to partner with PAPER, but for us thus far, we’ve found out that a lot of our students have been getting help in math, whether it’s an elementary math level or AP calculus. We also have really been stressing to our ELA teachers to incorporate PAPER. The neat thing about it is that any type of a writing assignment, you can kind of get another set of eyes on your documents first, or teachers are able to have the kids work on that first draft and then get a set of eyes on it before it even gets turned in and catch some of those errors that might take some more time. So, ELA, math are certainly two of the top things, but I’ve seen foreign language, I’ve seen physics, I’ve seen general science, really a lot of different areas that they’re able to help our students with.
Q: And so, since the teachers can see what their students are seeking help with, are there some examples of how teachers have used that information to either inform or modify the remote learning or any aspect of how they’re teaching?
A: Yeah, I think it’s really allowed them to differentiate the instruction. As classroom teachers in a typical environment, in a classroom environment, I think it’s challenging, but it’s possible to differentiate in the classroom. When you’re remote, it’s a little bit more difficult to have that differentiation. And I think that PAPER and getting back those reports, and seeing that a student might be struggling in a certain topic or concept, it’s allowed our teachers to differentiate their instruction and their expectations for different students.
Q: So, it’s maybe that extra intuition that they might not have the access to by not being in the same classroom with, that extra, little kind of feedback almost?
A: Yeah, it’s… I kind of equate it to almost having an extra teacher or a classroom aid in their classroom, because now these students are able to go out and get that extra help. And then, the teacher not only sees the benefit of the student understanding the concept, but they see what it is that their students are struggling with, and they’re getting that feedback from PAPER.
Q: Would you foresee the benefits of it going forward, when kind of things normalize, hopefully in the future? Would you see the benefit of it still remaining?
A: Yeah, we can definitely see that benefit. Like everything else, you have to make those decisions with what makes sense for your own, individual district. But we’re continuing to grow. This is something that we’ve only been doing now for a couple months. And the great thing about it is, our student that’s going to be the valedictorian, potentially, at the end of the school year is getting great benefit. They’ve gone in and have lots of different interactions with the PAPER tutors, and our just average student that’s going to be the 50th percentile is getting benefit, and our students with IEP, that sometimes struggle in the classroom, they’re also receiving tremendous benefit. So, it’s not often that programs kind of go across all of your student population, and that’s what I really like about PAPER is that every one of our students can receive that benefit.
Q: That’s a really widespread benefit. I can see that would be awesome for any district really, with diverse student population, which is all of them. So, as far as the implementation of the program, you said you’re a couple months in, how did you successfully kind of get it off the ground and introduce it?
A: Yeah, I mean for us, the great part is, the people at PAPER have been phenomenal to work with. They’ve been alongside us every step of the way, their tech team making sure that our students all have their login information, because basically, anytime they just hop on our website, log in, and they have a tutor there within seconds. So, the implementation was seamless in terms of getting everybody set up, get logged in. The marketing of the program, pushing out emails to families, to students. We have a big social media presence here to make sure that we’re sharing that information, because every student, they’re not all using it at this point, but certainly it’s available for all of them. And that’s where I think a growth area for us, is to continue to push that information out and allow all the students to know how effective this can be, especially for our students that are learning remotely that don’t have the resources to be in the classroom right now.
Q: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, thanks for highlighting this program for us. It sounds like it’s working well for your district. I appreciate the insights you’ve shared about it. Any additional thoughts for if other districts are interested? You said that the PAPER support staff has been good to work with, and so that’s where they should connect?
A: Yeah. Yeah. Just reach out to the staff at PAPER, and if anybody has questions, I’d certainly be willing to share our experiences here at Richland. And we’re happy with it, and we’re looking forward to continuing to grow, grow the resource within our district.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in health policy management from the University of Connecticut in 1996, Brandon Bailey received his teaching certification from Robert Morris University in business and information technology. Mr. Bailey embarked on his teaching career at Richland School District in 1999, teaching courses in business, computer technologies and driver education. He earned his master’s degree in education in 2004 from Saint Francis University, in Loretto, PA, prior to attending Indiana University of Pennsylvania in 2005 where he received his K-12 administrative certification. Mr. Bailey received his Superintendent’s Letter of Eligibility from Gannon University in 2007. After teaching for several years in the Richland School District, he fulfilled roles as the athletic director and assistant principal prior to serving as high school principal at Richland from 2007 through 2018. He has served as the director of educational services for the Richland School District since 2018.
During his tenure at Richland School District, the school has been a consistent leader in the four county region consisting of Bedford, Blair, Cambria and Somerset counties. The school has regularly ranked high in student achievement on the PSSA/Keystone Exams and has been recognized by the Pennsylvania Department of Education with the Keystone Achievement Award. The Richland School District has ranked #1 regionally in publications such as US News and World Report, The Pittsburgh Business Times, Niche.com and other publications.
Mr. Bailey has a strong background in curriculum development, technology integration and professional development. As a principal, he was a featured presenter at the PA Principals Conference in Pittsburgh. He has led multiple professional development initiatives, including ambitiously preparing every K-12 teacher at Richland to be a Level One Google Certified Educator. Mr. Bailey has been instrumental in developing Richland’s National Speaker Series, welcoming nationally recognized speakers such as Salome Thomas-El, Todd Whitaker and Eric Sheninger to Richland.
Aside from his leadership positions at Richland School District, Brandon serves as an adjunct instructor in the Graduate Education Department at Saint Francis University. Brandon resides in Richland with his wife and children, who are all graduates of Richland High School.