Offering Solutions to Virtual Learning: Letter to the School Board
Letter to the Alexandria School Board on September 16, 2020.
Dear Superintendent Hutchings and Members of School Board,
I am delighted to hear that you are reviewing zoom school hours and school day structure for our K-2 students. I wanted to share a couple thoughts, observations, and suggestions since we are in the thick of it with a kindergartner and a 2nd grader. First, I will say that Virtual + is a big improvement from asynchronous school from the spring, or what I called “mom school,” since our daughter only met with her teacher twice a week for 30 minutes. Last spring, our daughter was in first grade and all the asynchronous work and videos meant full-time parent facilitated work, since she needed a lot of support and guidance. This was incredibly challenging, because like many parents in Alexandria we work full-time. However, while Virtual + is a big improvement from the spring, I believe the pendulum swung way too far in the wrong direction.
What follows are some thoughts and suggestions on support needed for Zoom classes, getting kindergartners back to in-person (followed by 1st and 2nd), and adjusting the synchronous hours.
Additional Support Needed to Run Zoom: First, our 1st and 2nd grade teachers need support to help run technology and I do not mean training them some more. Kindergarten has the benefit of having incredible paraprofessionals in the class, though they could use even more support in this environment. 1st and 2nd grade (and I’m guessing the 3-5 too) desperately need another adult to assist so teachers can teach and not focus on technology (which takes a lot of time away from learning). Are there ACPS staff who are being paid, but their job is contingent on brick and mortar schools? What about our bus drivers? This is also a great opportunity to tap into parent and community volunteers if we can’t hire more staff for these grades. ACPS requires volunteers to be pre-screened, so why not use them?
In non-COVID days, volunteers were in schools daily. A volunteer or ACPS staff can help run tech on a zoom, such as letting students in from waiting rooms when they get knocked out, or muting and unmuting students when needed allowing teachers to teach. Even better, ACPS staff or approved volunteers could help with small zoom breakout groups that a teacher could jump in and out of, or help students who can’t quite figure out seesaw, epic, or raz kids, or they could do reading or math help. I work full time, but sign me up! I’ll take time each week to volunteer if it means our teachers can focus on teaching and our kids are in smaller groups and able to do more independent work with someone who can be there to support them virtually.
Technology Solution Needed to Reach Teachers During the Day: Kids get knocked out of zoom classes from time to time if by accident or due to WIFI issues. There needs to be someone able to quickly alert a teacher if he/she does not notice a student is in the waiting room. Again, I do believe an adult volunteer can help here, but you need an additional solution. It’s distracting for the teacher to let students back into the class and sometimes teachers don’t even notice when a student is trying to get back in. That happened to us in the spring and has happened to us three times since school started. One of our children was never admitted back into the class to close out the day last week when accidentally closing the Zoom screen and this week one child was not admitted back into the Zoom class for 25 minutes after lunch, missing a good chunk of class. I had to text another family and ask her daughter to let her teacher know that other students were waiting to get into the class. Because the teacher was sharing her screen, she did not notice that students were in the waiting room.
In the brick and mortar school, the school can broadcast a message directly into the classroom. You need a similar technology solution to reach teachers during a school day. Teachers are not looking at email while they are teaching virtually (I don’t blame them), however, you need a back-up plan to reach teachers and classes. You could do this using a messenger system like Slack or Microsoft Teams allowing teachers and administrators to communicate.
Return to In-Person School for Kindergarten: Please work on getting our kindergarten students back into the classrooms ASAP and before November, with the option of virtual for families. Kindergarten is a great place to start since they do have incredible paraprofessionals in each classroom. Each class could be split into two, allowing the teacher and para to switch places throughout the day, keeping the student ratios low. All of this is contingent on providing our teachers and staff with the right PPE, ensuring our buildings have proper ventilation, good safety protocol in place for students and staff, ideally regular testing for staff covered by ACPS, and a procedure and contact tracing if anyone gets COVID. After this, work on 1st and 2nd and build from there.
School Hours and Zoom: Finally, our teachers are doing the best they can within the parameters they were given, but it’s time to pivot as a district ASAP and before mid-October. 8-2:30 on zoom is not sustainable for K-2. Even with all the breaks given during the day, it’s not enough. Kids are mentally done by 1:00 or 1:30, if we’re lucky and we made it that far.
Please walk the walk here and consider spending one full day observing a Kindergarten- 2nd grade class so you can observe the challenges. Even better, observe a K-2 kid and family trying to learn remotely for an entire day so you can see the reality of learning remotely for the teacher, student, and parent/guardian. I would be happy to have my children do their class outside one day with a mask on if anyone is interested and I can find many other families willing to do the same.
Here’s my 2nd grade kid yesterday when she made it all the way through the day and had 45 minutes to go, with the final 30 minutes being an asynchronous assignment that she had to complete to end her school day. I can barely do Zoom on and off all day as an adult. Why are we asking our youngest kids to do as many or more Zoom hours than adults?
We want to instill a love of learning, not kill a love of learning. I fear we’re doing the latter.