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Schools cope to help students during COVID-19 crisis
Alexander Martinez assisted passing out free student meals during a daily distribution at Finley Elementary School in Holtville on March 24. Martinez handed out the meals to local residents who drove up to pick up the meals from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. | CORISSA IBARRA PHOTO

Schools Coping to Help Students During Closures

IMPERIAL COUNTY — As county schools temporarily cease in-classroom instruction amid the flu pandemic, studies continue with online programs that vary by district, a March 20 review showed.

At Holtville High School, students are using Google Classroom, a streamlined tool that helps teachers manage coursework. With Google, educators can create classes, distribute assignments, grade and send feedback, explained Principal Anthony Arevalo.

“We issued students Chromebooks and that’s how they’re turning in assignments,” said Arevalo. “Keith Smith, our history/government teacher, started streaming content (in real time). Other teachers are also streaming live at various times of the day.”

The district also anticipates resuming classes April 20 but that will be in consultation with the state, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the county Department of Public Health, he noted.

“We’re excited our teachers got the curriculum up quickly and students continue to learn and we’re proud of how they’re performing so well under difficult circumstances,” Arevalo added.

School districts in Imperial County ceased classes on March 16.

Distance learning is keeping students engaged online, explained Jon LeDoux, El Centro Elementary School district superintendent. Its students in grades three through eight were provided with Chromebooks uploaded with instructional programs to take home during the indefinite break.

“Since we do not have supervision of the students and because we do not know where students are during closure, we are not requiring they turn in assignments. It is up to parents to determine what the student completes at home,” said LeDoux.

For students lacking Internet access at home there are two options, noted LeDoux. Spectrum Internet services will provide free access for students in their business area. Also, the district has some Mi-Fi hot spots that can provide minimal connectivity.

It’s Chow Time

Meanwhile, schools continued to provide meal service to sustain students.

The Holtville Unified School District meal program has two sites, one at Finley Elementary and the other at the high school.

“Our cafeteria servers report everything is running smoothly,” said Arevalo. “This morning, a student during a livestreaming class told us, ‘Thank you for providing this’ and we very much appreciated it.”

“It’s doing very well. The first day 809 students were served,” said LeDoux of El Centro Elementary. “By the third day, we were at 2,800 and we believe that number will continue to rise. We typically serve 4,500 students daily. The funding is guaranteed so we have no concerns with overwhelming capacity. We have enough food to serve as many students necessary as long as we need, as our stocks are replenished on a regular basis.”

Contact between food workers and parents picking up meals at school sites is carefully controlled. Employees are well trained regarding food handling with all meals served to those in cars while servers wear gloves and there is minimal interaction with participants, LeDoux assured.

School Re-opening Still in Flux

The state is still providing guidance on whether school closures will be extended, and the district expects an announcement in the next few weeks.

“The state has announced due to the nature of the crisis, missed school days will not be made up,” said LeDoux. “The school year will be shortened based on when the schools reopen.”

As to the question if school could be canceled for the remainder of the year, he explained they are closed until April 20 but any decision beyond that will be made in the coming weeks.

“Our teachers are very concerned about the education of their students,” said LeDoux. “Some teachers are using virtual workshops, using teleconferencing with their students to offer enrichment lessons. Everyone is anxious to get school (classrooms) started as soon as it is safe to do so. We understand why we are closed and agree it is the best possible action to support efforts to stop COVID-19 from spreading.”

IVC Semester May Extend for Some

The daunting prospect of prolonging the spring term is a stark reality for Imperial Valley College students.

“We are hopeful most students will be able to complete their courses online by the end of spring 2020 and graduate on time,” said Martha Garcia, superintendent/president.

IVC will not cancel the spring semester and will offer most of its instruction and services online. Unlike the elementary schools, assignments and exams must be completed virtually. Still, there are some courses requiring in-person instruction, such as the Peace Officers Standards and Training Academy and nursing program.

Garcia conceded IVC may need to extend the spring semester for some courses into the summer session.

“Some students’ courses will extend into the summer session because it is required they complete labs face-to-face,” she said.

Distance learning is complicated because even at college level there are some who have no Internet access at home.

“The college recognizes this need and has offered to lend computers and Mi-Fi hotspots,” said Garcia. “We have a limited supply yet about 70 students have taken advantage of this service.”

Similar to the primary and secondary schools, IVC also implemented a grab and go model of meal distribution for the underserved.

“At IVC we are truly concerned about the food- and housing-insecure students,” said Garcia. “A drive through was arranged March 16 and about 60 students drove to a campus parking lot and students picked up bags of food, hygiene kits, including toiletries and a towel, along with school supplies and laptops.”

Currently, there are no more contingency plans being developed but Garcia said she recognizes it is a fluid situation.

“We appreciate everyone’s patience as college leadership works to ensure a safe and healthy learning environment for our students, employees and community,” Garcia pledged.

This paper requested a progress report from Calexico Unified School District as well. Alejandra Limon, a district public information officer, replied in an email the inquiry was received and would be shared with the district executives who would prepare a response. However, none was received by deadline.

This story is featured in the Mar 26, 2020 e-Edition.

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