Principal Lara Ricks was doing it all in the parking lot of Monterey Trail High School on Thursday, even directing traffic and handing out laptop computers to students she hadn’t seen in nearly a month.
“All we do is have a car pull up, we have them tell us their student ID or number, we plug that in, scan the Chromebook, hand it over to them,” Ricks said of the transaction, which allows for social distancing.
Her school serves approximately 2,000 students, and the event was the only activity the campus has seen since it closed in early March.
“We get a little shout in there, ask them [students] how they’re doing, and head them on their way,” she said of the visits.
After nearly all schools in California shut down in March, many teachers and administrators are preparing for closures to extend through the end of this academic year, as Gov. Gavin Newsom confirmed on Wednesday.
One of the challenges to remote learning has been ensuring all students have laptops and an internet connection to connect to digital classes.
In Elk Grove, Natomas, San Juan and other districts, officials are now distributing laptops via drive-through locations at schools. These services specifically target students in need.
At Monterey Trail, the school had set up a number of laptop carts in its parking lot, which allowed parents and students to check out a computer through their car window to reduce risk of transmitting COVID-19.
During the school’s closure, teachers have been urging students to keep up with their learning via packets or online enrichment programs. But there hasn’t been any formal instruction, mostly because not every student in the district has the technology.
“Distance learning is really just a simple concept of teacher and student are in two different locations, so we’re working with all the different scenarios, from a kindergarten student to a special education student, and working with them to see what distance learning is for them,” said Xanthi Pinkerton, spokesperson for the Elk Grove Unified School Districtsaid.
The district has given out about 6,000 laptops so far, 25% to high school students. Middle school and elementary school pick ups will be happening next week.
About half of the 60,000 students in the school district receive free and reduced lunch.The district used this metric to determine how many laptops it might need. The district does not have enough laptops for every student, so they’re urging only families that have no other computer options to pick one up.
Ricks said the event was a nice way to see students again, even if from afar.
“It’s kind of fun to see their smiles, and just see human nature again, right? They know they’re loved, and that’s what we want is that little connection of, “Hey, we’re here, maybe from a distance and we can’t wait to see you online soon,’” she said.
For sophomore Amie Sesay, the pickup was bittersweet.
“I kind of don’t really like it, because I kind of miss school,” she said. “But it’s kind of better on the other end, because we don’t want to get people sick.”
Sesay said she’s spent the last month mostly watching TV, and that she’s looking forward to returning to class.
Elk Grove’s school district has been closed since March 7th, after a substitute teacher tested positive for COVID-19. It now plans to begin distance learning on April 16 for high schools and middle schools, and on April 20 for elementary students. Natomas and San Juan districts have also been giving out laptops , and have similar start dates to Elk Grove.
At the Sacramento City Unified School District, where about 80 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch, administrators are in the process of purchasing an extra 20,000 laptops. The district has also started training teachers on how to best instruct online. They plan to give out laptops in the next week, as well.
Christine Baeta, chief academic officer at SCUSD, said that up until this point, teachers hadn’t been able to assign work or teach new material because of a lack of connectivity. Depending on their teacher, different classes may have been getting varying levels of instruction during the closure.
With teacher training, she hopes the district can create a core teaching model and determine best practices for teaching remotely.
“This is one of the biggest shifts in a teacher’s practice that they’ve likely had to encounter,” Baeta said. “This is quite a journey because we’re moving to school as a service rather than the place.”
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