Promising Practices: How 5 Schools are Overcoming Remote Learning Hurdles

How are local schools and districts adapting to remote learning while maintaining practices that are engaging, relevant, and equitable for all students?

In the span of a few short weeks, COVID-19 has transformed our region’s education system: schools closed, out-of-school learning programs suspended, state-wide testing and requirements waived. Home has become every student’s new home-base for learning.

Behind the scenes, teachers and districts have been tirelessly preparing for the transition to remote learning. That has meant tackling instruction-related issues, like ensuring students have access to computers and wifi, ramping up remote learning platforms, adapting lesson plans for online delivery, and ensuring accessibility for students with disabilities, plus finding ways to continue the host of other services students usually receive when in school, like daily meals and social-emotional supports.

Slowly, schools and families are carving out a new rhythm. This adjustment has been challenging, certainly. But it’s also given us a chance to reassess what’s important and come face-to-face with how education must innovate to ensure learning is engaging, relevant, equitable, and accessible to every student.

Now, local schools and organizations are sharing their COVID-19 experiences with us: what they’re trying, where they’ve succeeded, where they’ve failed, and what they’re learning along the way.

We call these quick case studies promising practices, and our first round features five local districts.


Butler Area School District (BASD)


At Butler Area School District, 44% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch. Before the shutdown, many of these children ate breakfast and lunch at school. Some even stayed for an after school dinner and tutoring program and took a backpack of food home on the weekend. 

When BASD first learned that their schools would close, they immediately thought about how they would feed these children.


Working together, school officials quickly implemented an incredible foodservice operation. They created an online form where families can sign-up for food. Their cafeteria workers are currently preparing 19,992 meals a week, and school security officers are delivering meals to 65% of the families.  School nurses are conducting wellness checks on every individual who is working. Facility staff is working hard to maintain clean and safe spaces for those who are working.

Overall, BASD’s efforts have been successful. During implementation, they did make a shift in their meal delivery process; all deliveries are now left at the front door of homes and school security officers wear masks and gloves and do not interact directly with families. This shift has helped protect both staff and families. 


Today, BASD is feeding more than 1,428 students two meals a day, seven days a week for free. While 35% pick up their food (two of their schools are serving as pick-up locations), 65% of these meals are delivered to each family’s front door by school security officers.


Canon-McMillan School District (CMSD)


With schools closed indefinitely, CMSD needed an efficient, effective way to continue school online.


On March 30, CMSD launched a thorough distance learning plan for the entire student population. Per the plan, grades K-4 now utilize Google Classroom to continue learning, while grades 5-12 utilize Schoology, an online classroom management platform that was implemented across the district pre-pandemic.

For students without internet access, teachers created printed packets while administrators provided families with information on free internet resources. The district also loaned Chromebooks to students without a device.


Because CMSD previously trained teachers in Schoology and rolled out the platform district-wide, the move to distance learning has been relatively seamless. It has allowed students, teachers, and colleagues to collaborate together within and across disciplines. All teachers have used Schoology to post digital copies of course materials and information, including video lessons, handouts, slide presentations, links, practice work, and assessments.

With a fundamental platform already in place, teachers have also expanded upon digital offerings. In addition to Schoology, the high school’s AP Computer Science courses are integrating and using Amazon Future Engineer’s Edhesive platform.

In addition, the district’s internet access outreach efforts helped significantly reduce the number of students without access, as parents took advantage of provided resources.


The Environmental Charter School (ECS)


In the face of COVID-19 school closure, the staff’s top priority was the health and wellbeing of their students and they wanted to make sure their ECS families knew that they were here to support them.


To lay the framework for a distance learning plan (DLP), ECS provided communications around support, need, and connection. Communications consisted of teacher and principal videos, student services information, and inspirational quotes to help families interact.

Two days into the students being home from school—and once families had a chance to adjust to the “new normal”—ECS deployed its DLP with suggested activities, information about its student engagement platforms, and ways for families to stay connected to each other and the school even when not physically present.


Through staff and family feedback, the school’s DLP has continued to evolve. For three weeks, students have interacted with teachers, student services, and after school staff to continue their education.

Students are observing spring break, after which they will return to virtual school and the DLP will transition from content covered to new and essential content. During this next phase, students will engage in synchronous or asynchronous learning or a combination of both; however, ECS is committed to the idea that this is not homeschooling. Instead, ECS is promoting the creation of a daily or weekly academic routine that allows students to connect with the school, and engagement and learning is the top priority as they navigate this challenging situation.


New Castle Area School District (NASD)

The district needed to quickly assess student needs for distance learning, including food access and connectivity, and create a plan to meet those needs.
Over two weeks, support staff contacted all parents of the district’s 3,200 students to ask about their distance learning needs. In response to this survey, the district’s three-person technology support team prepared 1,200 Chromebooks for those in need. The superintendent and food services manager coordinated breakfast and lunch service for all students and partnered with a local church to provide dinners and groceries to food-insecure families.

In addition, teachers built upon online tools they were already using for instruction, including Google Classroom,, and CMU CS Academy. Classroom teachers made plans to partner with special education teachers and personal care assistants to co-teach students with exceptionalities.


The district has worked to ensure children won’t go hungry and are adequately connected, so they are prepared to learn and succeed in this new environment. Technology staff continues to support parents, teachers, and staff as the district launches its distance learning plan and all adjust to working from home.


South Fayette Township School District


The district needed to implement online instruction that emphasized essential knowledge and skills, while maintaining a focus on student empathy, support of the whole child, and development of social and emotional skills.


Teachers worked in grade level and content teams to develop a plan for continuity of course content.

All students have their own district-issued technology device (grades one and two have iPads, while grades 3-12 have laptop computers), and the district has been actively reaching out to all families by mail, phone, and email to determine which students do not have internet access connect them to free service through Comcast.


The district has adopted for an asynchronous digital learning approach, meaning students work at their own pace, rather than together as a class or at a specific class time. Students have a reduced workload that is designed to be meaningful and elicit critical thinking. Teachers are focusing on instruction that builds the skills students need to advance to the next level and highlights opportunities to be creative. Lessons also capitalize on the home environment, with an attempt to reduce screen time and include physical activity as much as possible. 

In addition, counselors and the district’s social worker are supporting students and families during these challenging times. They are currently conducting weekly family check-ins, hosting webinars for parents on how to help students at home, and providing a framework for regular parent-counselor communication. Counselors have created a uniform message to send to parents, providing strategies for how parents can talk to their children about the crisis and changes in school operations.