SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Coronavirus outbreaks are forcing more school districts to put their students in online learning.
It creates a struggle for parents who are trying to navigate their kid’s new digital world with the needs of their families.
The issues become more compounded with larger families to keep students from logging off online learning.
“In the beginning, it was just the bare necessities. So you just had your little canvas course, and as things have gotten going teachers have been able to add to that and create their personalities and their connections inside that classroom,” says Edison Elementary Principle Sue Damm.
Salt Lake City School District‘s Edison Elementary is designed for collaborative learning. Much thought and consideration went into the classroom design and set up. Chairs and desks orders in small clusters rather than rows and aisles for example, but the pandemic swept through back in March turning everything upside down.
Online learning was in. Out was the ideal learning environment carefully crafted by the school’s staff and administrators that came to life two years ago.
Teachers, students, and parents feel the impact the greatest.
5th grader Natalia Macedo-Duenas says, “So they like bearly built the school not that long ago and, I like, want to go back, and I want to stay there longer.”
Online learning, the new normal in Salt Lake City School District has its challenges.
Classmate Hunter Ulibarri says, “Sometimes I forget to do things when online, and if you were in school, the teachers would be there reminding you.”
Across the district, data shows 91 percent of students are online, but teachers report only seeing 87 percent attendance.
Despite the many hurdles and obstacles, some teachers we spoke with are focused on the positives rather than the negatives.
Madeleine Root is Hunter and Natalia’s 5th-grade teacher. The day ABC4 News visited her classroom, students were playing digital bingo while learning about human emotions.
“There is a connection that I have this year that I have never had before,” says Ms. Root.
She’s been an educator for almost a decade, but she feels like she’s learning to teach all over again.
She spent an enormous amount of time adjusting and fine-tuning her lesson plan for online instruction. And she finds herself having to do a lot more than the three “R’s” of education, reading, writing, and arithmetic.
“We got to bring in something else that is exciting because they can just decide to turn off the camera or leave,” she adds.
Early on, getting students logged in and online was a huge challenge.
Many families in the district did not have the means to go online. The district has signed out roughly 15,000 devices like laptops and tablets, along with 1,400 wireless hotspots to families.
Next, teachers had to teach students and their parents how to navigate the online educational software and the occasional hiccups that may come with computers and wireless technology.
5th grader Ashley Aguilar Alarcon says, “Sometimes it just kicks you out of online classes, and siblings just keep annoying you.”
Root adds, “So starting from scratch but filling the day was/felt impossible.”
Ms. Root, like many other teachers, created visuals to help break down language barriers.
“I have kids who could really just fade away but they keep coming,” says Principal Damm.
Along with the technological struggles, making ends meet during the pandemic and fostering a positive learning environment at home is extremely challenging.
She says, “We have been into some classrooms where you can hear the 1st-grade teacher, and the 3rd-grade teacher, and the 5th-grade teacher when they unmute to answer a question, ‘Oh I heard Mr. So and So in the background.'”
Damm discovered some students just needed a desk to do their work and loaned some out to families.
“We look at that data and try to decide what we need to do, and how we adjust so that we get kids here and logging in,” says Damm. “Some kiddos just needed a place that’s quite that is someplace else they could set up shop to do school.”
To further compound the issues and struggles of online instruction, the principal says 100 percent of her student body is on free or reduced lunch.
Food insecurity is so high, the district packages a week’s worth of food for students and families that need assistance.
“For them, [they’re] working families and some of them work two jobs, sometimes more. Some are multigenerational living in the same home,” says Damm.
Edison teachers say in October roughly 87 percent of students attended online classes. The District found students logged in to 98 percent of its online learning platforms.
“As a learning community, we’ve asked a lot of our parents,” she adds.
One of those asks, a district camera inside the home.
“As a learning community, we’ve asked a lot of our parents. We’ve asked to become a part of their home. They have a camera in their home, and they are trusting us with that. And that is a big thing to be able to have that trust from a parent to say yeah, come on in,” says the principal.
Parents seemed to have welcomed the cameras so they could see what the teachers were teaching and reinforce the lessons at home.
Ulibarri says, “Once you finish school you could just lie down and do nothing all day.”
Each school has a counselor and family support specialist who follows up with families if teachers cannot find out why a student has logged off online learning. They say they do this in the hopes to get that family what they need so their student can learn during the pandemic.
If a student does need something, teachers will work out a time with a student’s family to drop off a book or something on a doorstep.
Some teachers will meet with students for a couple of minutes outside the home following physical distancing guidelines and wearing a mask.
Principal Damm adds, “These kiddos are learning amazing things right along with their teachers.”