The COVID-19 virus is impacting our lives in more ways than we imagined. Thousands of school districts, responsible for millions of students, are being put to the test in how they respond and stay resilient during this global pandemic. Social distancing, indefinite school closures, online learning, and homeschooling are the new reality for schools nationwide.

While it is never easy to prepare for any kind of extended disruption or crisis, how school infrastructure, practices, and policies adapt could signal a long-term change. These changes are even more profound when you work in an under-resourced community where many students rely on school lunches for their meals, and where many families do not have reliable internet access at home. School closures become that much more difficult, but this pandemic has revealed how technology is helping to keep schools and students engaged in learning and on track to finish the school year.

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At Breakthrough Public Schools in Cleveland, Ohio, educators are navigating as best we can while keeping students engaged and focused on their academic goals. This requires a blended approach to account for families in our community without access to technology in their homes. Our teachers are following a “modified” pacing calendar and have refined learning goal expectations for students to reach whether they are taking classes online or traditionally by paper. We’ve gathered resources and developed assignments that will be available both online and in hard copy.

Additionally, we are using mailing services to send schoolwork to homes now that transportation is a significant barrier. We are also figuring out ways for teachers to continue to engage their students, either through one of their existing online platforms or offline.

While Breakthrough Public Schools is still working through the process of accountability for completed work, we recognize the benefit technology resources bring as we transition our schools to this new reality.

Here is how I believe access to technology has provided our public-school community with a “booster shot” against the novel coronavirus:

1. Digital content: Our teachers have made significant shifts in converting most of their readouts, assignments, and worksheets into a digital format over the last year, moving away from traditional paper and pencil learning. Having lesson plans already in a digital format made it easier to provide students (and their parents) with resources and assignments online or for pick-up/delivery.

2. Online and mobile communications: School communications have changed considerably with school email, texting, social media, video conference calls, and webinars stepping to the forefront of morning announcements, parent communications folders, weekly newsletters and read-and-signs. Familiarity with these digital tools and platforms has helped us offer our students and school community with a smooth transition to at-home learning. As part of the Verizon Innovative Learning program, every one of our students and teachers have tablet devices equipped with data allowing for communications to continue without missing a beat.

3. Familiarity with a virtual learning environment: Our school has been fortunate to allow students to have 24/7 access to technology. Our teachers have been able to take learning outside of the physical walls of their limited classroom spaces and extend it into a virtual world. We have been empowering our students to take ownership of their learning and find their learning styles by providing new ways to engage with their lessons as well as sharing their knowledge. Ultimately, our students can work at their own pace while at home and request assistance from their teachers when they need, making transitioning to a virtual classroom and online learning not as challenging of a task for them as it will be for others.

3 ways tech increased our resiliency to the coronavirus

I am extremely fortunate to work in a school district where our students and teaching faculty have had access to 1:1 devices in school and at home as well as a technology-enabled curriculum to ensure digital literacy for all through the Verizon Innovative Learning school program. A resource to help teachers transitioning to learning at home can be found here.

The novel coronavirus has put a magnifying glass on many entrenched social issues, including the digital divide, which impacts more than 20 percent of school-age children nationwide who lack reliable internet access at home. As we transition to e-learning and online classes, we are working to significantly reduce the spread of coronavirus, but this means the “homework gap” can only get larger. If your school has an existing technology program, you can have more immunity and your school can bounce back faster.

Having integrated technology into our three middle schools has enabled our students to take advantage of a number of rigorous online learning tools that can be fully navigated individually, while still having quick access to their teachers to assist them in areas that they struggle.

This is a time that we all will look back at and say, “What were we able to learn from that?” I am sure the list will be long. However, once the COVID-19 virus hit our communities, it has certainly made it clear to us that the digital divide is real and situations like the one we are all facing together call for equity in access for all people.

About the Author:

Jonathan Lubas is a teacher and a Verizon Innovative Learning Technology Coach in Breakthrough Public Schools in Cleveland, Ohio.

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