Like many school districts, ours has been shut down since March 13th. All 53 schools are closed and all 34,000 of our Pre-K-12 students—about 65 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch—are home. Also like many school districts, we weren’t totally prepared for a shift to 100 percent online and remote learning.
The good news is that while we are all separated from our schools and students right now, we have specific platforms in place to support students’ remote learning. By combining our StudySync English language arts (ELA) curriculum with some other strategic moves, we’ve been able to support remote learning pretty quickly. Here’s how we did it:
1. Set up a command central for instruction materials. We have to give kudos to our K-12 curriculum and instruction specialists, who came together to form the best group of educational professionals we’ve ever worked with. Working with our team we started pulling together materials that could be printed.
One person was in charge of making sure we contacted vendors to figure out the copyright issues, while others worked on communication documents for teachers and school leadership. Another team member focused on making sure that the learning would be accessible for our Spanish-speaking families. We also built out a website within days that included access to communication, social-emotional learning supports, as well as access to all learning materials that were available to post online per copyright agreements. It was very much a “command central” for instructional materials. Our initiative for this effort is called Ignite! Limitless learning opportunities at home, online, and beyond.
2. Send the materials at home. Our school board meeting fell on a Thursday night when the superintendent made the decision to close our district on Friday. We saw it coming and made sure our instructional coaches and English teachers sent the companion books home the next day. That’s how we ensured that all students carried home a copy of the reading and writing companion.
3. Create at-home learning packets. Our first layer of support, as our schools began to close down, was to have an initial at-home learning packet available. We rolled that out to our communities on March 16th. We’re now working on the third packet for our families. We had both school-based and community distribution sites, with 81 total sites where families could come and pick up the instructional materials and meals for their children.
4. Don’t drop the ball on outreach. We continue reaching out to teachers and encourage them to use the ELA curriculum and assign the texts in StudySync that are in our packets. Our website has parent guidance for access to all of our materials, directions on how to log on, help with assignments, access to the scaffolded learning, and other resources. Finally, we gave our teachers instructions on how to link to Google Classroom and other platforms from home. That way, our students who have digital access at home can use Google Classroom to interact with their teachers.
5. Remember to support non-digital homes. We’ve spent the last few weeks trying to figure all of this remote learning out while also planning to move forward with instruction. Through this entire transition, we also have to consider that not every student in Durham Public Schools has internet access. So whatever we are asking teachers and schools to do at this point, we’re also supporting it with a paper version of the instructions and the lessons. For example, for two rounds of distributed work, we’ve thoughtfully incorporated StudySync lessons both digitally and on paper.
The road ahead
For us, school is now closed for face-to-face instruction for the rest of the school year. We are distributing our last round of packets this week at all school sites and by mail. The learning materials in these last packets will take students through the end of the school year. We’re also hoping to make some videos available on our website for parents, including how to download our ELA curriculum app and remotely manage an instructional reading routine.
The plan is to stay the course on supporting our teachers and students with print materials that align with our teachers’ daily assignments. That way, teachers can plan effectively and know exactly what was given to students in print, so there are no surprises.