Following state directives, students in the Sarasota County School district will learn online until at least May 1.
Students across Sarasota County are trading classrooms and lunch pails for laptops and the kitchen table this week.
Following direction from the Florida Department of Education, all Sarasota County schools will remain closed through April, two full school weeks beyond the original target of April 15. During that time, they will continue their school lessons online, which launched Wednesday.
In preparation, the district delivered 5,449 computers to families in need.
Last week the district released its Instructional Continuity for Academic Needs plan to connect children with their teachers. Each day, students will work through lessons that teachers have curated for home-learning. Activities include reading, journal writing and completing online assignments.
Teachers will be available online to help students and parents with any problems that arise, something for which parent Jessica Kress is grateful.
Kress is staying home from work to look after her kindergartner and facilitate school work.
“I’m definitely nervous because she doesn’t take instruction as well from me as she does a teacher,” she said. “But it’s helpful knowing I have that teacher support because I know I can text or email anytime.”
Teachers will use a variety of programs, such as Microsoft products, the school’s Apex system and Zoom, a videoconferencing application.
Students will complete work on a schedule that works for them, though each student is expected to complete about three hours of online learning daily.
Riverview High School math teacher Michael McGuckin said he is looking forward to e-learning.
“It’s not ideal, but I’m excited for the opportunity because I truly believe that this is going to give students a chance to work on some of these 21st century skills like time management and prioritization,” he said. “They are in a sense forced to work on setting a routine and daily schedule for themselves.”
Teachers will focus on giving support to students rather than sticking to deadlines or a rigorous grading schedule. According to the ICAN plan, students who put forth an effort to complete their online work should not receive a grade lower than 70%.
Alexandra Hamill, an English teacher at Booker High School, is setting up Zoom meetings and other forms of communication with her students to let them know that she is still there for emotional support as well as educational support.
“A lot of times, we might be one of the few stable adult relationships a student has,” Hamill said. “They look forward to seeing our smiling faces every day and knowing we’re a constant for them, and I want to keep providing that.”
Amy Schwartz, a physician who has two children who attend Southside Elementary, said the work teachers have already put in has helped her children prepare.
Teachers at the school put on a car parade for students and parents Wednesday, waving from a safe distance to cheers and signs of encouragement.
“I’m just so thankful and have so much respect for all the amazing teachers right now,” Schwartz said. Teachers concede some remediation might be necessary when normal classes resume.
“We’re all in the same boat,” Hamill said. “It’s not like some students had access to learning in person, and others were forced to learn remotely. We’re all at a disadvantage, but if we work together and help each other as best we can, we can move forward.”