Wednesday was the first day of remote-learning classes for students the the Santa Barbara Unified and other local school districts, which are adjusting to life during the coronavirus pandemic.
Before spring break, SBUSD figured out ways to keep providing meals – Grab & Go lunches are available daily throughout the closure – and train teachers for the switch from in-person instruction.
The district’s existing educational technology, including the iPads assigned to students and online learning management system for assignments, put it in a better position to implement remote learning quickly, said Shawn Carey, assistant superintendent of secondary education.
A new master schedule has three class periods a day rather than the typical six one-hour periods for junior high and high school students, Carey said, plus “flex time” on Fridays.
San Marcos High School, which uses a different block schedule, has two longer periods per day.
“It’s very different from what a student would normally experience,” Carey said.
Teachers can pre-record lectures, use live video chats, and hold virtual office hours for real-time interaction with students, she said.
“Some teachers will assign work right away and some will spend a few days building community,” Carey said. “We have 800 teachers, so we have to provide for some flexibility.”
Elementary school students are being mailed printed packets of work to do, according to the district.
Santa Barbara Unified campuses will be closed through at least April, and the state superintendent of education said this week that schools will probably remain shuttered for the rest of the school year.
County Superintendent of Schools Susan Salcido said “distance learning” will continue during K-12 public school and charter school campus closures.
“We understand that school closures create serious hardships for many families. School districts in Santa Barbara County are following the guidance of the governor, the state superintendent of public instruction, and the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, and believe this is the most effective way to slow the transmission of this pandemic,” she said in a statement.
“We must do our part by continuing to implement social distancing practices and flatten the curve.”
The California Department of Education already suspended standardized testing, and is expected to issue guidelines on grading, credit completion, and what remote learning means for high school graduation and college admissions, Carey said.
“Assessment at this point is what teachers are doing to inform instruction rather than an ultimate grade, score or number of credits,” she said.
The district is also thinking about the implications for “high stakes areas” such as high school graduation and elementary students who are already reading below grade level as they lose a quarter of the school year, Carey said.
The state suspended the model of funding based on daily attendance, but districts are tracking student engagement and participation.
Santa Barbara Unified has been checking with students and families this week to make sure they have access to devices and internet service.
While all students in grades 3-12 should have iPads because of the one-to-one program, the district identified at least 300 people with broken or lost ones, so they’re arranging for pickups Wednesday, Carey said.
The district also plans to get devices for students in preschool through second grade.
Over the next few weeks, the district will be following up with students and families who are not participating in the remote learning, Carey added. Some families may have to move out of the area or have so much going on that they can’t engage, she said.
“We’re anticipating that, and are of course worried about that,” she said.
Carey noted that the district is still working through the tactical needs of “hands-on” courses like construction technology, theater arts and science labs.
Dos Pueblos High School reported that more than 90 percent of students checked in by video chat Wednesday.
“We are now working hard to connect those having connectivity issues, or support them if health or economic challenges are impacting being able to focus on school at this time. Yes, some hiccups to still work out, but if you know a DPHS teacher, give them a shout out for all their hard work, even as many care for their own families!” says a message on the school social media pages.
San Marcos High School physics teacher Jarrod Bradley had 31 of his 33 students log into his Zoom video conferencing session for the first day back.
He said he took advantage of the spring weather Wednesday and taught his class from the front yard of his Goleta home.
“My main goal was to reconnect with my students and share my concern and care for them,” he said. “My colleagues and I all miss each other and our students, so we are all excited to see them, even if it is only on a screen.”
He shared what he has been doing lately besides preparing for class — complete with pictures of him riding his bike and making homemade gnocchi — and asked students what interests they’ve discovered or re-discovered.
Bradley said there were few glitches in the online conference and a short internet outage, but they were able to reconnect quickly.
The process is not as effective as in-person instruction, he said, but the first class meeting was effective and meaningful.
“We had fun and students appeared engaged,” Bradley said. “Students interacted with myself and each other by responding in the chat box, and I selectively unmuted students to have them share their ideas with the class.”
He gave them a short assignment on calculating the velocity of their favorite roller-coaster.
“They will Google their favorite rollercoaster and use the information on Wikipedia to apply conservation of mechanical energy,” he explained.
Dos Pueblos teacher Matt Moran, who teaches AP world history and International Baccalaureate history, taught from a guest bedroom in his home Wednesday, and said he had all of his students log in for the first Zoom meeting.
“They were mostly all smiles and happy to see each other. A lot of students said they are bored at home and looking forward to doing school again,” he said.
“The biggest change is doing Zoom meetings for class and creating screencast videos of my computer. Students are still doing the same reading and notes, will work on the same writing skills, and we will use Zoom to do small group discussion,” Moran said.
“I still need to figure out the next best step in creating an online learning environment where students can still practice communication, collaboration and critical thinking with each other.”
Mike Gerken, who teaches English at Dos Pueblos, also said students were happy to see each others’ faces.
“There wasn’t a ton of interaction between the students —a few excited hellos and such — but the high numbers of attendees speaks to their need to connect to something other than a video game or a Netflix show.”
He said it was the first time he has taught a class online.
“Not much awkwardness except a few kids (were) under their covers still, and the fact that I had to look at my own face on the screen as I was talking. Feeling a lot more sympathetic to any student who sits in the front row of my classroom,” he said in an email.
“I’m working hard at becoming more technologically proficient as the new method of delivery demands. Going 100-percent paperless is also new, but not as hard of a transition. A benefit, I suppose, is that I can give almost instantaneous feedback as assignments come in.”
Fellow English teacher Robin Selzler said she was learning to make screencasts, and is keeping her bilingual aide busy translating all of her written messages and resources that she would typically explain in class.
“We are also just trimming down. I think less is more in all of this,” she said in an email. “I’m excited to see how kids become more independent as learners. So far, they seem pretty curious. We’ll be growing the ‘figure-it-out’ part of their brains!”
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