Luz Reyes-Martin is a board member of the Goleta Union School District, but she’s also a parent.
“I have an incoming kindergartner who will be starting his K-12 journey with very different memories than I made,” Reyes-Martin told Noozhawk.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned traditional educational methods upside down, and forced teachers and administrators to scramble for ways to teach students through distance learning.
“What I have seen is that children, no matter their age, pick up on how their parents are responding,” Reyes-Martin said. “I am keenly aware that we must not forget about the support, resources, and communication parents need. This is not the start of the 2020-21 school year we envisioned, but we can all continue to work together to make the best of it.”
The school year for students in the Goleta Union School District begins in about two weeks, and officials for the first time have unveiled plans for what classes will look like.
The Santa Barbara Unified School District also released its plans recently.
As the pandemic continues its stranglehold on just about every aspect of society, among those hurt the most are the children in the public school system.
Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered school districts in areas with high COVID-19 case rates to begin the school year online, sending teachers, parents and students into disarray.
As a practical matter, families are facing the nightmarish scenario of figuring out how to work, whether in an office or at home, and still be available to monitor their child’s day-long distance education plan.
Some families are trying to pull together backyard mini-classrooms, and hiring someone to oversee the Zoom lessons and other activities.
Other families who don’t have the money to pay for a home assistant will have to figure out how to stay home and work, while overseeing their child’s distance learning.
The Goleta school district serves about 3,600 elementary students on nine campuses.
Each child’s school day will include Zoom sessions with the classroom teacher to focus on core instruction. Students learning English as an additional language and those with additional intensive intervention needs will have additional Zoom sessions.
Students also will have asynchronous work time to focus on project-based learning, enjoy self-paced video lessons, and practice independently.
Reyes-Martin said that structure will be a hallmark for Goleta’s distance-learning plan.
“As we begin the school year, we will proceed with a robust remote-learning program that meets the educational needs of all students, that gives parents a consistent routine, and that teachers can effectively implement with full support from district leaders,” Reyes-Martin said. “Communication will be essential so that, as a team, we can all work together to support children with remote learning.”
A sample day for Goleta students includes announcements at 8 a.m., and core instruction via Zoom from 8:30 a.m. to 9:15 a.m.
From 9:15 to 10:30 a.m., students will have asynchronous work time, which includes pre-recorded video lessons, project-based learning and independent practice.
From there, students will have an optional recess from 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Then, from 11 to 11:25 a.m. students will take part in small groups via Zoom.
From 11:25 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., students will again have asynchronous work time.
Students in transitional kindergarten and kindergarten will take part in lessons with specialists.
Lunch takes place from 12:15 to 1:15 p.m.
After that, the whole class will meet for a class Zoom that focuses on science, social studies and other subjects, from 1:15 to 1:45 p.m. The asynchronous schedule will complete the day from 1:45 p.m. to 2:45 p.m., and transitional kindergarten and kindergarten students can take part in optional lessons with specialists during that period.
Reyes-Martin said she is excited about the opportunity for creativity that remote learning presents. Still, she is concerned about the loss of human contact.
“Remote learning cannot replace what happens in the classroom,” Reyes-Martin said. “I am concerned about how we support children who will be missing out on the peer relationships that can’t be replicated via Zoom.”
She said she is concerned about supporting the needs of special education students, as well as having a strong desire to focus on equity.
“Everything we do has to include language access for our non-English speaking parents, teachers need ongoing support, and the future seems highly unpredictable,” Reyes-Martin said.
Goleta district board member Susan Epstein said the district we will be offering child care on site in small groups, primarily outdoors for teachers’ children.
“That will enable all our teachers to work full-time, and all of our teachers to utilize their professional expertise and training for the benefit of our students,” Epstein said. “We are also allowing teachers to use their regular classrooms for online instruction.”
Goleta plans to hire 21 additional teachers to lower class sizes, in an attempt to meet the emotional and academic needs of students.
Epstein said teachers will check in with students to understand their social and emotional needs, and will use a “Second Step” social-emotional curriculum.
The district will provide music, art, physical activity, and technology instruction via recorded lessons in the afternoon Zooms.
“We continue to have an emphasis on supporting the whole child,” Epstein said, adding that there remain many challenges ahead.
“Some of our families live in multi-family households and children do not have a quiet desk or table space at home dedicated to their learning,” Epstein said. “We also have some homeless students, and homelessness may increase during the pandemic.”
Success with online learning will also depend on the support of parents at home, she noted.
For example, if a child decides to turn off the computer or walk away, or to stop working on a paper assignment or to help a younger sibling, the teacher will not be physically present to talk to the child and get them to focus on their schoolwork.
“Since most of our parents work full-time, this will require other adults,” Epstein said. “Some of our families are joining together in pandemic pods to split the cost of hiring child care supervisors for small groups of children in backyards safely distanced.”
She also said that some nonprofits are offering similar small group supervision and outdoor safe places to learn in our community to low-income children.
“Our district is asking each family to provide the contact information for the adult supervising the child so that our teachers can partner with them on keeping students on task with their learning,” Epstein said. “I am hopeful every child will have this support, but am deeply concerned that some children might fall through the gaps.”
Epstein also stressed that the pandemic is likely having an impact on people’s mental health. She noted an increase in child abuse and domestic violence that could be occurring because people are for the most part locked up in their homes.
“I am also concerned about kindergartners and students new to our schools not meeting their teacher and classmates in person,” Epstein said. “We will have one-on-one zoom meetings for these new students to meet their teachers, but it’s clearly not the same.
“I am also concerned about students not being able to play with friends in person, learn and develop social skills in person, play cooperative and competitive sports in person, and do all the usual activities of childhood.”
Parents will also have the option of Independent Study/Home School, where a parent provides the instruction for their child using the district curriculum. The parent, teacher, and student meet once a week for an hour to review the learning progress.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has presented our community with challenges, and we are committed to providing a robust online educational program for all students,” said Goleta Union Board president Sholeh Jahangir. “Our staff and administrators have worked tirelessly to ensure students have access to technology, social emotional support, quality academic programming and instruction.
“I am truly proud of our team and community for handling this crisis with compassion, empathy, and innovation.”
In Santa Barbara, the district released a nine-page overview of its distance learning plan last Friday.
School principals will be hosting webinars for families this week to provide school-specific information on what to expect during distance learning.
The district’s Educational Technology Services team this week will be sending information out on how students and families can get access to WiFi hotspots, free internet and personalized service to help with setup.