COLUMBUS (WCMH) — It’s official: Ohio schools will finish the 2019-2020 school year remotely due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Mike DeWine made the announcement Monday afternoon.
“I wasn’t surprised,” said Sara Maassel who has a second grader and pre-schooler to now teach at home. “I’m a little bit relieved because then you know what to expect, I think, for the next month or so.”
“I know he made the best decision,” said Columbus City Schools Superintendent Dr. Talisa Dixon about DeWine’s announcement. “We want to keep our students and teachers safe. In this time of social distancing, it’s best we remain at home where we can actually practice that.”
The challenge now for CCS, like other school districts across the state, is to make sure their students have all the resources necessary to finish the year successfully. A lot of that hinges on students having up-to-date technology at home.
“We know that not all of our students have access to wi-fi and have devices, but we are still planning to give those devices out to any of our students and families that need them,” Dixon explained. “For example, we learned a few weeks ago that our families stated they needed more Chromebooks, especially families who had three or more students. So we’ve opened and have that opportunity this week and next Monday for families who need additional Chromebooks, they can make an appointment and pick those Chromebooks up.”
Sara’s daughter, Beatrix, has been using a loaned Chromebook from her school, Ecole Kenwood Elementary. Sara said having a screen specifically for Beatrix’s school has been invaluable.
“We had computers before, but because now I’m using it, so she can’t use it all day, too,” said Sara, who has been working from home during this time. “Doing that and also homeschooling them and becoming their IT department has been very tough.”
Chromebooks are a big help for students, but there is still the issue of wi-fi access for many. When CCS went to remote learning initially, the district did a quick-fix by boosting the wi-fi at some of their buildings so it could be used from the outside.
“We have 104 of our buildings that now have amplified wi-fi and families can go to the parking lot. Although that was not ideal for some of our families, that was a start for us and something we knew we could do right away,” said Dixon. “The second phase was getting hotspots. So our partner, ‘I Know I Can’ helped us secure 500 hotspots and we are using those hotspot devices to give those to seniors first and then the remaining, we would give those to families.”
Dixon added that the school district is still working with other companies to secure additional hotspots. It’s all about giving students as much access as possible, but Dixon knows sometimes devices and academic resources aren’t enough.
“We recognize that for many of our students, school is a safe haven,” she said. “We know that is a concern for us and our teachers and our guidance counselors are reaching out to our students and really talking to them and trying to really advise and encourage them that, in this uncertain time, that we are still here for them just in a very different way.”
One way Dixon is trying to be there for the students is by communicating with seniors about upcoming graduation. The superintendent has scheduled a tele-hall meeting for next week in order to take questions and input from seniors about the ceremonies.
“Our students want something normal as we experienced, all of us here experienced. We know that that may not be the case, but what I have shared with them is that we will work on this together and we will follow the advice of the governor and Dr. Acton,” said Dixon. “Their safety is very important. The safety of their parents – we have to make sure that we are following those guidelines. And we could come up with something that’s very creative!”
Right now, it’s a lot of forward-thinking for Dixon. Whether that be with technology, ceremonies or even, already, considering the start of school next fall.
“What I’ve decided to do is form a reopening task force so we have people come together and say, ‘Okay, we now know how the school is going to end, but how are we doing to begin next year?’” she said. “That is so important that we think about that, put some best practices in place because we know next year is going to look so different, and that’s where we’re going to put the energies from now on.”
Seven-year-old Beatrix can get on board with that. She’s already excited to be back at school and done with this learning from home.
“At school, you get to, like, have fun with your friends and, like, with your teachers. But when you work at home, there’s not like a lot of stuff to do with your friends,” she said, pouting.
For information on CCS’s loaned Chromebooks, wi-fi hotspots or other remote-learning resources: www.StaySafeCCS.org.
To make an appointment for Chromebook distribution, call (614) 365-6471.