COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Students in Ohio’s largest school district are starting a historic school year. The first day of virtual classes in Columbus City Schools came with some unique challenges.
“I want to make sure my grades are the best I can have them. And me missing school, that’s going to be hard doing that,” said Medina Middle School student Joshua Peaks.
Tuesday, the eighth-grade student set up his school-issued laptop computer with notepads and pencils at the family’s kitchen counter and logged into the online learning academy early in anticipation of his first day. The fall online curriculum includes Zoom meetings with teachers and students, but Peaks said he and many of his classmates ran into technical issues joining the class discussions.
By late morning, he had completely missed at least three courses.
“I just want him to get his classes in on time. I don’t want it to look like he’s not doing what he’s supposed to be doing as a student,” said Peaks’s mother Cynthia Cooper.
Cooper worried about the issue derailing her son’s classwork, but said district staff and the school principal were quick to help troubleshoot and communicate with his teachers.
Tuesday morning, CCS superintendent Dr. Talisa Dixon urged families to be patient with the system.
“It’s not perfect. We don’t expect to be perfect… because a perfect setting is if our students were in our classrooms,” she said.
After classes unexpectedly moved online in March, the district spent the following months adjusting the curriculum and working out best practices. The start of classes was pushed back several weeks to accommodate for additional professional development for teachers and staff.
“It’s been a learning culture that we’ve created this summer, making sure the lessons that the students have are amazing lessons,” Dixon said.
The superintendent stressed the district is expecting academic success from its students but realizes many will need additional attention and structure.
“Our students’ social-emotional well-being is more important right now than learning science, math, and social studies,” she explained.
Peaks praised his teachers’ flexibility and said outside of technical glitches, he’s confident in their abilities.
“They can teach through very different conditions and tough times, so I’m worried but I’m not worried at the same time,” he said.
Dixon and the Board of Education are weighing decisions with Columbus Public Health, but hope to return to partial in-person learning by October.
“Until we get our students back, we’re going to continue to work together and do the best we can for our students and our families and our staff,” Dixon said.
The district will continue its free Fuel Up meal program on Wednesday, with distribution sites throughout greater Columbus. Find details here.
Dixon released the following video and statement Tuesday evening about the first day of school.
Hello CCS Families, Teachers, and Staff!
We have successfully completed our first day of the new school year, as we welcomed back all 50,000 of our students to their virtual classrooms. Together, we are RISING UP to support our students and their families in this new learning environment. Across the city, we had students actively engaged online with their teachers to start the year off strong.
I know the first day did not come without minor setbacks and frustrations — those were to be expected — but I am proud of how everyone in our District stepped up to respond, troubleshoot, and assist. Opening schools in a completely virtual format is a new endeavor, and there will be bumps in the road along the way.
I even had my own technical difficulties today as I attempted to “drop in” on some virtual classrooms at Oakmont Elementary. I know many of our teachers, staff, and families had hiccups of their own. Let us all have patience and know that we will work through these challenges and master our new virtual format.
Despite my own computer troubles, our first day had many success stories. I was able to witness first-hand the amazing teaching and learning happening at Southwood Elementary School. Principal Miracle Reynolds was gracious enough to let me visit her school and classrooms to see our teachers in action.
Here is what I saw…
— Second-grade students were engaged online with their teacher Bernadette Monroe. They were learning two-digit numbers, and I could see parents helping out their young children in the background. It was a wonderful math lesson, and it was inspiring to see this learning happening on day one.
— First-grade teacher Sheila Deschaine had the Zoom protocols down pat for her virtual class — there was a time for students to chat among themselves before the lesson, and once the lesson started students knew how to mute themselves and pay attention. The interaction with first graders in this format was outstanding. Mrs. Deschaine read her students the book “How to Get Your Teacher Ready.”
— Intervention Specialists Patty Sleeper and Andrew Michel were making phone calls and connecting with families to set up supports for their students.
— Fourth-grade teacher Roxanne Adams walked me through the bit.ly website that Southwood set up for families to access information — an idea that other CCS schools could easily emulate. Their families wanted a one-stop-shop for their school information and resources, and Southwood delivered. Click here to see their Google Classroom site.
All across the Southwood building and on computer screens I could see smiling and engaging faces. It was heartwarming to see the interactions between teachers and students, especially considering all that our world has been through since March. I hope to see more of this engagement as we continue this fall, and I plan to drop in on-site and on the screen to classrooms regularly. In fact, I’m scheduled to try again for my virtual visit to Oakmont tomorrow!
Thank you to everyone who helped make day one special, especially our amazing CCS teachers for their patience, extraordinary efforts, and grace as they lead our classrooms in this virtual setting. Together, we will RISE UP to meet this challenge of educating and nurturing our community’s children. I look forward to providing more updates, anecdotes, and data throughout the fall.Dr. Talisa Dixon
Superintendent/CEO, Columbus City Schools