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With remote learning, online access a problem for some

Amanda Parrish * Delaware
aparrish@doverpost.com
Middletown Transcript

Appoquinimink School District students started at-home learning March 30, and the district is trying to make the adjustment as seamless as possible.

The school district has tentative approval from the Delaware Department of Education to use an online remote option, Superintendent Matt Burrows said. The district will have to submit a formal plan by April 3, but he does not think there should be any issues getting it approved.

“This is uncharted territory for us. There was no plan for this,” Burrows said during a March 25 meeting. “Is it going to be perfect out of the chute? Probably not, but we want it to be.”

Gov. John Carney has closed schools until May 15. The March 23 decision came 11 days after announcing schools would close for two weeks.

During a special board meeting March 25, Burrows said he hasn’t dealt with anything that wouldn’t allow people back into the building.

While online learning seemed like the logical response, it was not clear if this could be the chosen method of remote learning due to many families not having devices or internet connection. The district had to make sure everyone has access to an electronic device and internet.

Four days before the governor announced school closures until May, Appo sent out a survey to see what technology access families have at home.

Based on 9,000 responses, it confirmed that a substantial number of younger students did not have an electronic device that could be used for learning. Many said they had access to the internet, but other families lacked reliable access.

The format

The format is primarily online, but paper and pen activities will be used.

Using the application Schoology, students will be given flexible schedules based on their grade level. The schedules don’t outline specific times to be online, but the time students should set aside for each subject. The district will give students the options to be online live during a teacher’s lesson or watch the recorded video.

“We know families have different schedules, some responded [in the survey] that night time works best or the afternoon works best. We want to make the schedule flexible,” she said.

The district encourages keeping to a regular routine.

Kalia Reynolds, executive director of teaching and learning, said during the board meeting the district has four priorities: keeping the lessons and activities simple; focusing on the needs of all learners; anticipating the needs of parents, teacher and students; and having manageable course rigor.

“We know this is new learning for everyone, but we want to have a level of comfortability for everyone,’’ she said. “This is an adjustment for everyone and we want to make sure we are out in front of this and providing support.”

As they build upon this model, the district plans to modify the accommodations for special needs children.

“We know that we have variables we have to plan for. We continue to address those on a daily basis, but once we have a level of comfortability expanded, we want to improve the support we are providing who have diverse learning needs,” Reynolds said.

They have to consider English language learners and students who have an Individualized Education Program.

Device deployment

Sixth through 12th graders have been using iPads for in-person classroom learning and homework assignments.

The district handed out more than 250 iPads to third, fourth and fifth graders March 26. Burrows said they are still figuring out if they have the resources to give them to kindergarten through second graders.

He said they ordered “hotspots” from their broadband partners, which will be delivered in April and sent to families who don’t have Wi-Fi or have poor connectivity at home.

Families without devices or internet service can pick up activity packets at Louis L. Redding Middle and Middletown High schools.

Starting slow

Reynolds said they don’t want to overwhelm parents or students with multiple content areas all at once while dealing with technical issues. They will focus on one content area at a time throughout the first weeks.

“Our primary focus for the first week is to ensure our parents, students and teachers are familiar with the platform they are engaging in and they have tech support,” she said.

Math and language arts will be first and science and social studies will follow.

In lieu of a spring break, students will get a four-day weekend from April 14-17 so teachers can catch up and figure out what needs to change.

“We are not done. We are building on this every day,” Reynolds said.

Hitting targets

Based on guidance from the Department of Education, students need to have a certain number of hours of instruction, and teachers have to meet a certain number of working days for the year.

Burrows said those in grades K-11 should hit 1,060 hours, 1,032 hours for seniors, 188 days for teachers and 185 days for paraprofessionals.

“Our goal is to hit those targets,” Burrows said. “We are currently working on a calendar for hours needed to deliver to students.”

When Carney announced schools to be closed until May, he also said schools should not be open past June 30, so schools will have three months from now to hit those targets.

Burrows said statewide testing has been waived by the U.S. Department of Education this year, so the focus can be put on getting the instruction needed to move on to the next grade.

“We will make adjustments as we can. We are just asking people to be patient and understand that this is new for us,” Burrows said. “We are trying to do what is best for the kids.”