IMPERIAL COUNTY — After two weeks of online learning and the recent announcement by Gov. Gavin Newsom of all physical classes being cancelled through the summer due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, school officials are upbeat on student readiness moving forward.
“Most school districts are deploying a combination of online services and the distribution of physical packets of lessons in an effort to ensure students are ready to return to school as soon as it is safe to do so,” said Alvaro Ramirez, Imperial County Office of Education safety and preparedness emergency coordinator and office public information officer.
The county Office of Education has contacted districts about keeping up to speed. ICOE continually collaborates with its partner districts throughout Imperial Valley, Ramirez said.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach, he stressed. Each school district is responsible for their distance-learning efforts and each is deploying strategies that best fit their respective communities.
“School districts are providing assistance for their students with a combination of laptops/Chromebooks, tablets and connectivity devices,” Ramirez said. “And ICOE is working with our districts to coordinate distance-learning strategies among schools and support their efforts during this unprecedented time.”
Improved Network Bolsters Connectivity
To its own end, ICOE has been working for some time to ensure more Imperial County students would have high-speed Internet capability to work in such a modern environment.
ICOE’s BorderLink project was launched in 2018 with the intent that Imperial County would be the most connected community in the nation. Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for $840,000 and $360,000 from the Imperial Valley Telecommunications Authority, families will and have been “wired” that can’t afford basic Internet, Ramirez said.
“Since the onset of BorderLink, more than 1,500 connectivity devices have been deployed,” he said. “Over the last month, more than 600 connectivity devices were deployed in support of distance-learning efforts, an additional 1,000 devices are on order, and two additional towers will soon be operational.”
Adjustments to Remote Learning Ongoing
Ward Andrus, superintendent of Central Union High School District, viewed the future with cautious optimism. CUHSD will not know how well students are truly prepared until their return in the fall, Andrus explained.
“We will do all we can to prepare students for the next year,” Andrus stated. “The same is true for our incoming eighth-graders from our feeder schools,” he said. “They can do the best they can in preparing students from Seeley, Heber, Meadows, (El Centro Elementary School District) and McCabe.”
Central Union asked its teachers to continue teaching on pace as they would normally. “We will do our best to help students that struggle and have issues of connection,” Andrus said. “We will take that into consideration when issuing grades and how we teach in the fall of 2020.”
One of CUHSD’s contingency plans is to use its tutors and instructional aides to help teachers reach students who are not turning in work. However, should some students continue to fall behind or make no effort in the fourth quarter, Central Union will allow the chance to make up the work.
Andrus said plans for summer school are already being formulated. It will either be a traditional model or more online classes.
“We will take on those challenges as they come,” Andrus said.
Emotional and Social Support Vital, Too
Online experiences for students not only enrich what they know, but will introduce and support new concepts, said John LeDoux, superintendent of El Centro Elementary School District.
“We understand that we will not be able to cover all the content for each grade level, so we are planning on how to address this in the fall,” he said. “Since this is a new experience, we will be documenting and seeking input from our teachers on what concepts may have to be taught in the next grade level a student may be attending next year.”
He added they will then plan the curriculum for the fall to match those needs. He noted rigor is not as important as keeping students actively engaged in the world around them.
“We’re giving them more tools to discover how to find information on their own,” he emphasized. “One of the most exciting parts of online is that students will be able to interact with their peers via the virtual classroom. Maintaining positive relationship and friendships is important and we want to support that as well.”
LeDoux noted if the shelter-in-place order is rescinded, ECESD plans to offer summer school.
Online Success Depends on Precision Integration
Alejandra Limon, public information officer for Calexico Unified School District, explained the recent challenging situation requires a remote-learning plan the district implements in three phases, the first being to ensure access to the Internet for all students.
Phase two recognizes that remote learning is not just transitioning classroom learning to the virtual delivery model, but requires constant reflection and creativity in design, delivery and assessment, Limon stated.
Phase three requires fine-tuning remote learning to strengthen student skills as they advance to the next grade or graduate, she stated.
Calexico Unified initially made much effort to see all students who did not previously have Internet access have now received devices, Limon stated.
It’s important to note that the California Board of State Education has been in contact with colleges in the state, many of which have agreed to be flexible with admission standards including accepting pass/fail grades, not using the SAT/ACT for admissions or financial aid.