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School District readies parents for virtual learning

By Staff | Mar 26, 2020

With Google Classrooms beginning Monday for Lee County students, the school’s district’s academic services arm held a Facebook live town hall meeting Wednesday to answer questions and help prepare parents and students for the first day of virtual learning.

“I want to thank our parents and community members for their patience. Also for their commitment to our children. We have passed out over 11,000 Chromebooks for our elementary students and we are passing out even more. I have been able to see our parents come out and visit our schools and making sure our kids are prepared for what is really transformative in the field of education. If you really think about it, just a very, very short time ago we were educating our students face-to-face with almost 97,000 kids in Lee County. Now we are getting ready to do this with a distant environment, a virtual environment. I know this is a huge change for everyone. I will ask for your patience because there will be some glitches along the way. We are here to support you, which is why we are doing this Facebook live,” Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins said at the beginning of the session Wednesday afternoon.

He encouraged parents to continue to reach out and ask questions through help.parents@leeschools.net, as well as reaching out to their student’s teacher and principal.

Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jeff Spiro said he and his team were at the town hall to help ease some of the feelings parents at home may have by answering questions on their mind.

Rob Spicker, a district spokesperson, read the questions. The first question was about the parent requirement, or expectation at each grade level. The question also entailed what are the expectations for elementary students, and whether the parent becomes the teacher, or supervisor. The last part of the question was how much time it would that take at the elementary, middle, or high school level.

Spiro said the team has set up the distant learning platform with a great deal of flexibility for teachers and parents.

“We know that many parents are home with more than one child and might be sharing a Chromebook, so we know you are going to have to balance your day out to make sure each student, each child in your house, has enough access time to the Chromebook,” Spiro said.

Each of the district’s teachers have set up office hours, which are the scheduled time each day where the child’s teacher will be available for the parent and student to answer questions. With that said, Spiro said they suggest that parents have a schedule for their child providing for structured time.

It is recommended that parents create a schedule just as if the child was in school. The schedule, an example of which is provided in the Family Distant Learning Resource Packet, should include activities laid out, with work done during a certain time frame; followed by a break — exercise or social emotional learning.

The Family Distant Learning Resources is broken down into grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12, with both learning activities and supplemental activities. The social emotional learning activities for families and home include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship management and responsible decision making, again broken down into the same age groups.

Spiro said the Family Distant Learning package makes numerous activities available to the parent to help them supplement some of the work that is already available to them at their fingertips.

“What we don’t want to have happen for parents is the child sitting in front of the screen for six and a half hours at one complete time. That is not the object of this. We want you to be mindful of the amount of time your student is in front of the screen, take brain breaks away from that screen. Make sure to focus on the whole child, not just the mind part, but the physical part as well, so that they can continue to focus on their work,” Spiro said.

The assignments given will be week-long assignments, rather than something due each and every day. Spiro said the teachers are going to post the assignments and check in with students while the student works on the assignment at home.

“Yes, the parent at home is the support for the child,” he said. “They will be answering the child’s questions if they can help. They will be providing guidance to them as a co-teacher with the teacher, so yes, they are right there providing some of that support. This will be done in tandem with parents at home and teachers in the classroom.”

Director of Teaching and Learning Bethany Quisenberry said she wants to let parents know that it is OK, breathe and be patient as more information comes out from their teachers for this week and next week. She said the teachers understand that many parents work during the day and that their children might be taken care of by an older child.

“It’s difficult for you to work through the schedule, or help your child during the day because their older sibling is taking care of them. I have that same situation at home. I have four children. My high school student is currently trying to do a schedule with my kindergarten student. Today was better than yesterday, better than the day before,” Quisenberry said. “Just like you we are working through it day by day. We actually created a schedule yesterday and went over it with our 6-year-old and this time is breakfast, this time is i-Ready, now you have a break, this time is lunch, this time is i-Ready, now you have a break, this time is sight words and this time is fluency.”

She said she understands, as do the teachers, that kids are not as focused while they are home as they would be in a classroom.

“Anytime the dog runs by they are focused on that. They don’t understand that they are supposed to be in an academic setting because they are home. Our teachers are aware of this as well. They are going to be supportive and help you in any way that they can,” Quisenberry said.

She said teachers are also aware of students who are sharing Chromebooks with their siblings, and are being sensitive in regard to the amount of work they are assigning.

“There will be face-to-face contacts through Google Hangouts or some teachers might utilize the Zoom app as well. All of those will be recorded, so if there is an issue for your child who is unable to watch, they will be able to watch it later,” Quisenberry said. “The teacher will really make sure they communicate that with the family and keep it as consistent as possible, so if they are doing the classroom activity at 10 on a Tuesday, it will always be 10 on a Tuesday.”

Spiro said at any time the child feels frustrated with where they are, reach out to the child’s teacher and communicate those feelings. There will also be school counselors, the student’s regular counselors, available from the child’s school.

Another question came from the charter school parents, stating they have not yet heard any information.

Spiro said charter schools have the same instructional plan, as well as all of the documents and resources. He encouraged charter school parents, if they have not heard from their child’s teacher by the end of the week, to reach out via email to either the teacher or principal of the school, to let them know that they are ready to learn.

Another question addressed was whether grades counted and whether attendance will be taken.

Spiro said grades do count. He went on to say that although the state of Florida released them from the responsibility with state assessments, students are still going to be held accountable for grading that occurs.

“The work that your teacher gives you, the work that you submit, all that counts towards grades and that is what will count towards your final grade of the year,” Spiro said. “Yes attendance matters. Attendance counts. Our first goal next week is to make sure all of our teachers and all of our students are connected and attendance will be taken into account as we go through the rest of the year.”

Another question came from a grandmother who asked if distance learning can be done while their grandchild is in Kansas City. Spiro said yes because Google Classroom is a universal platform, so no matter where the student is located, they can log into the Google Classroom for that teacher.

What parents should be doing this week, and what they should be supplementing in addition to what their teachers are providing, was another question asked during the town hall.

Spiro said all of their teachers, both charter and public school, are all immersed in their own professional development getting ready to learn to teach virtually for students.

“What our parents should be doing is going to our webpage, distant learning for students and families webpage,” he said of parents can be doing through the weekend.

There are resources available online, which include how to access the Google Classroom, find Grab-and-Go food sites available, as well as resources by level — elementary, middle and high school resources.

“Those are all live links and resources that students are already used to inside the school house,” Spiro said.

He recommends that parents get students used to the digital platform.

Quisenberry also advised parents to go through the Distant Learning “I Can” checklist for students and families. The list includes information for food services; reliable internet; access to computer, or Chromebook; district username and student identification number; receiving messages from School Messenger; finding “my classes” in Google Classroom and completing tasks in each of teacher’s courses and contacting the school if there are any questions or if they are not able to access Google Classrooms.

If the parent answers no to any of the questions, there is a link that will answer the questions.

Spiro said if someone does not have access to a Chromebook, they should contact their school principal by Friday.

The district username and student identification number, he said is a really important feature, especially in elementary school. Spiro said he would like parents to earmark this particular item because they are getting a lot of questions on this topic.

“This tells you step-by-step instructions on how to make this happen,” he said.

Another really important “I Can” is being able to receive messages from School Messenger.

“This one is crucial. There is a lot of information that is changing rapidly for the past few weeks and we want to make sure you are up-to-date, so make sure you click on that School Messenger. It tells you how to create an account for School Messenger,” Spiro said.

Parents should also go into Google Classroom to make sure they can find the classrooms before Monday.

Google Classrooms will be there by Friday, Spiro said. Each teacher is expected to reach out to students and their families, via School Messenger, putting messages in Google Classrooms, or calling the home to let the families know they are ready for the students.

Another common question was for those who had students in ESE, or have an IEP, what are the accommodations being made to help those families and students.

Spiro said all of the resources are available for all ESE and ELL students and teachers. He said IEPs are still going to take place virtually.

“Our teachers are going to be doing those IEPs outside of their regular office hours, so all of those services can continue,” Spiro said. “Speech and language will continue, those will be done virtually as well. Our ESE team will be reaching out to each of those students to make sure that they have all of their needs met.”

The district has also provided a hotline phone number for ESE and ELL students. The hotline for ESE parents is (239) 337-8104 and ELL is (239) 337-8619. Someone will answer the phone from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Another question regarded the option of holding a student back, or letting them continue to the next grade was asked by many on Facebook during the town hall.

“Here is the advice that we are going to give any of our families. It is going to be a decision that is made with the principal, teachers and that individual family,” Spiro said. “We will be making that decision on a student-by-student basis. We are not going to be making a wholesale everybody stays back. We want to make sure that the student — taking into account the skills and knowledge they have — as we make those recommendations.”

Another question stemmed around technical schools and how students are clocking their hours. Spiro said the technical colleges will have a virtual platform and each of the directors will be reaching out to their students.

“School is going to be happening for adult learners in technical colleges,” he said.

Will electives be taught online, was another question, specifically for a robotics class.

Spiro said elective classes also will have Google Classrooms with a variety of learning platforms that the teacher will be using to make sure that the content and standards are being provided for the students.

“It’s going to look different for students who are used to having that hands-on activity, so the way you learn robotics may be a different mobility than what you are used to in the classroom,” Spiro said. “Nothing can replace face-to-face teaching and hands-on learning that our teachers provide for our students everyday. This is going to be different for all of us. We are going to have to learn how to teach and learn differently as adults and students.”

The final question of the town hall was about seniors graduating on May 23.

“Your child will graduate on May 23 if they have all of their grades passing, have met all of their credit requirements by the state of Florida. The grace for our seniors this year is that the state has waived all graduation requirements around the state assessments only. They didn’t waive passing grades and they didn’t waive the credits. You have to make sure all of those are in order. What an amazing opportunity seniors, to take advantage of this unique opportunity. If you were deficient in credit, if you were behind in some of your grades prior to spring break, now is your time. Take advantage of this opportunity, put your nose to the grindstone. Take care of the work that your teachers are providing for you, submit your work, get those grades in and graduate and move on with your lives.”

Spicker ended the town hall by telling parents to continue to send in their questions

at help.parents@leeschools.net,

and visit www.leeschools.net

for a plethora of information.