Friendswood ISD updates: Number of in-person learners increases, district adapts to COVID-19 challenges

Second-grade teacher Brittany Bocan greets her virtual class as they get ready to learn. (Courtesy of Friendswood ISD)
Second-grade teacher Brittany Bocan greets her virtual class as they get ready to learn. (Courtesy of Friendswood ISD)

Second-grade teacher Brittany Bocan greets her virtual class as they get ready to learn. (Courtesy of Friendswood ISD)

The number of students learning virtually at Friendswood ISD decreased by half for the second nine weeks of the 2020-21 school year, district officials said.

At the start of the year, about three in every four FISD learners were participating in on-campus classes, with the other 26% learning remotely. As of Oct. 12, 87% of students have returned to brick-and-mortar instruction, and 13% are learning virtually, which Superintendent Thad Roher said is a welcome change.

“School is no fun without kids,” Roher said at a League City Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon Oct. 16. “The adults, they don’t make it fun.”

This school year has brought about new opportunities in learner agency—learners driving their own learning—as well as in learning to engage students through technology. The district also saw record new enrollment this year, Roher said, which factors into the provisions of the 2020 bond on the ballot this November.

Here are four other updates to know about activity in FISD this fall.

Learning adaptations

The FISD community is finding new ways to reinvent lessons and keep all students motivated amid the pandemic. Lauren Ambeau, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said remote students are following a similar scope and sequence to those learning in person, and teachers are relentless in finding new ways to reach their students through screens.

“Virtual teachers had no handbook. They have literally invented every instructional move they have made,” she said in the release. “They are innovators and visionaries who are changing the face of public education in FISD.”

Learning to maximize instructional time with students while on the screen, redesigning lessons to make them digitally engaging and gathering feedback from students in a new way have all been new challenges, but Ambeau said teachers and students have met each obstacle head-on.

“Teaching virtually has required us as educators to truly analyze how we approach lesson design,” she said in the release. “When you have limited time with students on the screen, you are really forced to analyze, ‘At the end of this lesson, what am I wanting students to be more proficient in?’”

FISD is encouraging its youngest in-person learners to get outside at Westwood Elementary School through an outdoor learning center. Principal Kristin Moffitt and a team of educators researched and designed a space for students to visit with their class, either during recess or a scheduled lesson.

Students can visit the center with their class during scheduled times either for recess or a class lesson. The space is covered in kiddie mulch and includes outdoor Legos, a rock-climbing wall, toy trucks, tic tac toe, tires, a fairy garden, tree cookies, a swing, wood pieces, art and music spaces, a weaving area and boulders. There are plans for continued expansion, as the center is in Phase 1 of three.

“We wanted to be sure it was more cooperative play than they can get at a normal jungle gym,” Moffitt said in an Oct. 1 media release.

Capital projects

Three projects are underway or will soon be underway at the district’s facilities: maintenance on a stadium scoreboard, work on the baseball field’s outfield wall and work on auditorium lighting.

About $54,000 is being spent for the work on the scoreboard and outfield wall, with the remaining $85,000 being spent on the auditorium work. Work on the football field lighting fixtures is on hold, per documents from an Oct. 13 board of trustees meeting.

Safety plans

The district made personnel-related changes to its organizational and incident command structures as well as updated required drills and dates for the 2020-21 school year, district officials said.

Notable changes to the Reopening Plan as they relate to COVID-19 include:

  • Before and after-school activities for elementary clubs and groups (such as student council, choir, chess club or robotics) will resume Oct. 19.

  • Pre-K through third-grade students are required to wear a face covering or shield during class transitions.

  • Nonporous surfaces have to be disinfected unless more than seven days have passed since last contact; previously, the threshold was three days.

  • No parent volunteers will be allowed on campus for the first semester of school; previously, the language stated this would only be the case for the first nine weeks.

Regional recognition

FISD was ranked by Niche, a data analysis website, as the No. 1 school district in the Houston area for the 2020-21 school year, and FISD also ranks among Niche’s top 10 best school districts in Texas.

According to its website, Niche “combines rigorous analysis with authentic reviews to highlight the best schools, companies and neighborhoods.” These reviews are gathered from student, parent and community ratings in order to gain firsthand insight to how those directly involved with the district feel, district officials said in an Oct. 13 media release.

Based on Niche’s data findings, the district is given grade scores in each of the following categories: academics, diversity, teachers, college prep, clubs and activities, and health and safety. The district scored an A+ in the academics, teachers, and college prep categories.

By Colleen Ferguson

Reporter, Bay Area

A native central New Yorker, Colleen worked as an editorial intern with the Cy-Fair and Lake Houston | Humble | Kingwood editions of Community Impact Newspaper before joining the Bay Area team in 2020. She covers public education, higher education, business and development news in southeast Houston. Colleen graduated in 2019 from Syracuse University and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, where she worked for the university's independent student newspaper The Daily Orange. Her degrees are in journalism and Spanish language and culture. When not chasing a story, Colleen can be found petting cats and dogs, listening to podcasts, swimming or watching true crime documentaries.