Up until schools started shutting down in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, teachers in Dawson Independent School District didn’t use our website much. This wasn’t because they didn’t want to. It was because, like most teachers, they were more focused on all the other hard work of teaching young people. With all of our buildings closed since March, they’re all online teachers now, and they got up to speed on running their teacher pages on our site in less than a week.

Those teacher pages are where students are getting their assignments, so we had to get them up and running. I can’t say anything about the last two months has been seamless, but setting up those pages and making sure students have access to what they need went as smoothly as possible given the circumstances.

Related content: Lessons and leadership during the switch to online learning

Our content management system provider, Edlio, has a great help center with helpful documents on creating classes, updating teacher pages, and anything else our teachers needed. As the technology director/social media manager/webmaster, I sent everyone a single document from the help center explaining how to set up class pages, and only a couple people on my staff needed help after that.

Now they’re all reaching out to me saying, “Wow, why haven’t we been using this the whole time?” And I say, “Well, I’ve been trying to get you to!”

Our transition to a fully internet-based distance learning model started on April 6th. Here’s how we’re contacting, teaching, and even feeding our students.

A cornucopia of communication channels

Like districts all over the country, we had some learners who didn’t have internet access when the buildings closed. We managed to obtain and set up 100 hotspots for students who don’t have internet access at home. We loaned out 220 iPads to students as well. Due to our efforts, every child on our Junior/Senior High campus has internet access to be able to participate in the online environment.

To keep the learning going, our teachers and students are cobbling together whatever communications tools they can to help them connect right now. There are a ton of emails going back and forth, and kids are even talking to teachers on the phone and having individual tutoring sessions through video conferencing when they need to.

We have some teachers who have created Facebook pages where they’re going live for their students, too. Some others who were already using Google Classroom found out how easy it is to integrate it with their class pages on our website, so they’re putting that to good use. Yet other teachers have been using Zoom to invite all their students to video conferences to talk about assignments or get some extra help.

Our at-home distance learning center is located in a new section on our website called The Dog House. We’ve been telling parents to check the website and our Facebook page, but the website is definitely the one we’ve emphasized the most. This is where we have our procedures, lessons for our students, vital information for their parents, our current status regarding the extended break from school, our COVID plan, and most importantly for many families, our meal plan.

Free food for families

Buildings are closed, but this district is still teaching and feeding its students

Our district serves 565 students in a very rural area of central Texas. On the first Monday after the schools closed, we served 493 students 1,479 meals. We have served over 40,000 meals since starting the program and continue to provide three meals per day for each day of the week, totaling 21 meals for each of our students per week. On Friday, for example, we’ll give them meals to get through to Tuesday. They’ll get a hot meal when they arrive and some frozen food their parents can cook for them later at home. We’re prepared to keep doing this as long as we need to.

Many kids depend on the free meals they receive at school, especially in a district like ours, where the average income is $33,300 a year. So many other things are uncertain with people out of work, so we decided to provide more than just lunch and breakfast, and are offering dinner to students as well.

We don’t even allow people to get out of their cars to pick up the food. The staff members and teachers have been volunteering to help put packages of meals together, and our food service workers are carrying it out to them. Seeing the dedication of these people and how well they’ve come together to help their community has made me so proud to be part of this district and community.

Looking to the future

With our schools closed for the remainder of this academic year, we have had to cancel all of the remaining events for the year with the exception of graduation. We await further instructions from the Texas Education Agency on how to proceed with the next school year. Regardless, Dawson ISD will show their dedication to our students and community like we have throughout this crisis.

About the Author:

Cameron Shaw is the technology director, social media manager, and webmaster for Dawson ISD. He can be reached at cameron.shaw@dawsonisd.net.


Add your opinion to the discussion.