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In Conversation With ... Tonya Tarvin Crum

Tonya Tarvin Crum

on how KET stepped in to help parents, students and teachers when Kentucky schools closed

Kentucky School Advocate
June 2020

In Conversation With … features an interview between a leader or figure involved in public education and a representative of the Kentucky School Advocate. Tonya Tarvin Crum is senior director of education in early childhood, K-12, distance learning, professional development and adult education and workforce development at Kentucky Educational Television (KET). She discusses the role KET has played in assisting Kentucky educators and parents as schools shifted to distance learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Q: KET is often referred to as Kentucky’s largest classroom, but in the spring of 2020 that took on a whole new meaning. How did KET respond to the closure of all in-person instruction in Kentucky public schools?

A. When we found out there would be closures, we wanted to create a place for the high-quality educational resources that parents and teachers needed and could trust that would be easy for both audiences to find. We created an online toolkit called Learn at Home with entry points for families and educators. The toolkit is also segmented by grade level. 

Q. What does the toolkit provide for each audience?

A. It is an easy place for parents to go and see all the resources – our 24/7 KIDS channel, PBS KIDS apps and activity ideas like scavenger hunts. 

We have been a support for NTI for many years, but with NTI going statewide we wanted to give teachers easy access to the content they could use for it. On the teacher side are links for PBS LearningMedia, which is by far our most-used resource. Content is aligned to standards and teachers can use search to find what they need. The content, which is often video based, can be integrated into Google classrooms and Remind and put in lesson plans for a distance learning program.

Q. KET also changed its broadcast line-up to include educational programs throughout the day. Why was this important and how was it accomplished?

A. Not every student has internet access at home. As a statewide public television station, it made sense for KET to provide access to educational programming on air because we knew everyone in Kentucky could receive it. So we partnered with other PBS stations to pull together the program schedule and on March 30 we began 10 hours a day of educational content Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., again broken by grade level. There were existing PBS programs like “Nova” and “History Detectives,” chosen because they could align to grade-level content standards. We also knew that these programs provided access to supplemental educational materials so a teacher could send a packet home with a student and tell them which programs to watch at what time and which educational worksheet or discussion questions to answer.

Q. Is there evidence that students tuned in?

A. We are just getting the first viewer data from Nielsen but it shows that in certain segments of the state there has been an increase in daytime viewership while these programs were running. 

Also, views of KET-produced content on PBS LearningMedia have increased over 420 percent since NTI began. In that same time, we’ve had over 33,000 new Kentucky users register in PBS LearningMedia. 

Q. In addition to on-air programming, KET offers many online resources for students and parents. What can parents find online to help prevent student learning loss over the summer?

A. The Learn at Home toolkit contains many daily activity ideas and lessons that parents can use over the summer, broken by grade level.

We have also created a page of subject-based activities for families, a collection of printable activities for families with PreK-grade 3 students. It is organized by subject area: reading, math, science, engineering and physical activity. Some example activities include bird watching, storytelling, bingo and science experiments.

Q. Are there other ways KET hopes to provide educational programming to students in the summertime?

A. We are in constant communication with the Kentucky Department of Education and we are talking about activities that could be set up at summer feeding sites. The hope is that districts could print out some activities from the Explore at Home website and hand them out at feeding sites.

Q. KET recently asked parents to respond to a survey about the Learn at Home programming. What insights did the responses provide? 

A. We have not fully mined the survey for all the data points, but most respondents are educators who are also parents. The survey also does include a small sample who are parents or caregivers. The respondents were evenly distributed across all grades. That was interesting because KET is often thought of as for PreK-3 even though we have a lot of content for middle school and high schoolers. Among the respondents’ comments were that they were thankful for high quality programming that could be linked into Google Classroom. And many said that they had students without internet access, so they were glad to have the broadcast aspect. They were pleased to see that the content being broadcast was aligned to standards. 

Also, the survey showed that while many teachers knew about some of our resource learning media, they didn’t know the depth of the content we can provide. 

Q. Are there resources for teachers who might not be able to attend in-person professional learning opportunities this summer?

A. KET has always offered professional development resources for teachers and many had already been transitioning to online courses, but we’ve seen a definite increase –up more than 200 percent for those courses from the same period last year. In K-12, we’re also offering webinars and virtual training for teachers and we’re partnering with KDE for the summer to do some training with digital learning coaches and that will be a virtual summit. We’re looking at more opportunities like that. 

We know teachers get a lot out of our multimedia professional development day, usually held in July.  Obviously, we won’t be having that at KET this summer but we are looking at other options for providing that training.

In May, we began offering our courses for online professional development for early care educators for free. You earn credit that is approved by the state that caregivers are required to get for STARS accreditation. We enrolled over 800 people in the first two weeks, which was unprecedented.

Q. KET also has several educational consultants. What is their role at the station?

A. Our regional educational consultants are all certified teachers and have taught in Kentucky schools. So they can relate to teachers and give useful tips for making the best use of the content. They typically go into schools and train teachers about how to use technology and production equipment. 

Q. How has the role of these consultants changed recently?

A. We are learning to refocus our training. We still train teachers to use PBS LearningMedia, but now the focus may be on what makes solid distance learning. Making the transition to more virtual training has been interesting but we are all more comfortable with it than we were even a few weeks ago.

The consultants have done a lot of training in the past five years on PBS LearningMedia and there’s always a lot of use of that content – about 1 million page views a year. 

Q. Planning for the future in a pandemic is a challenge. How would you describe KET’s approach?

A. As things change day to day, we look for ways to help teachers and learners across every age level. What we think we are going to do next week may be different by the time we get to next week. But our foundation of educational programming has made it easy for us to jump into action.

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