Since Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement that all K-12 schools will be closed through the end of the academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, school divisions have been awaiting guidance on how to teach out the final few months. As the answer includes online education, public schools in localities like Charlottesville and Albemarle County have been making changes to get their students plugged in.

Along with distributing Chromebook computers to students who need computers, Charlottesville City Schools is providing Wi-Fi hotspots to provide student households access to online learning.  Albemarle County Public Schools has extended Wi-Fi access for personal devices and school-related equipment into school parking lots. Albemarle and Charlottesville schools both have posted online resources. 

David Leaverton said he has access to resources from the city schools, and he’s adjusting to the new teaching method. Teachers and parents were not prepared for this, he said. 

“It’s just one of the weirdest things [in] life,” he said. 

Although instructional resources have been provided, he noted there’s room for improvement, adding that the homeschooling his wife and he have tried to provide their children also has room for improvement.  

“[Charlottesville City Schools is] trying to implement something as quick as possible,” he said. “I think we’re learning what works and what does not work. There’s not really a roadmap for online preschool learning.”

He said having to instruct three children during this time is challenging, adding that there are different things that his wife and he need to teach their children and varying levels of involvement.

“There’s an online platform that the teachers are using. It’s just not user friendly,” he said. “… If we’re [going] to do it, I’ve got to do it alongside my child, and that takes me away from my other children. I haven’t figured it out yet.”

Both divisions are working with state officials on how best to handle the online transition. On Wednesday, Albemarle schools announced that it has received guidance from the Virginia Department of Education that notes that all students who were on track to graduate or move to the next grade level at the time when schools were closed will be able to graduate or be promoted. For students who need to complete additional work, options include waiving some graduation requirements, instruction through learning modules, possible summer instruction and/or adjusting the 2020-2021 school year’s schedule.

“We were already working with principals on how to expand student learning opportunities and will be using the department of education’s guidance to refine and complete these plans,” Deputy Superintendent Debora Collins said in a statement. “Our emphasis will be on providing equitable access to high-quality instruction to every one of our students in every demographic group, including those without broadband access.”

Back in the city school division, Charlottesville High School Principal Eric Irizarry said one of his major concerns is ensuring students can get online. Unlike other schools in the division, all high school students are issued Chromebooks. 

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Eric Irizarry became principal of Charlottesville High School in 2016.

Credit: Billy Jean Louis/Charlottesville Tomorrow

“My biggest concern with online learning is making sure that all of my families have access to wireless internet,” Irizarry said. “What we’re trying to do at this point is identify those families that need those hotspots, and we’re in the process now of trying to identify them and then deliver them to those places.”

Jackson-Via Elementary School Principal Justin Malone said 100 Chromebooks have been issued to parents so far. He said teachers have been using several online platforms to stay connected with students, including Zoom video conferencing and Seesaw, which allows them to load activities, documents or links for students.

Malone said there still are families in his school zone that are lacking computers. School-issued Chromebooks still are available, but Charlottesville City Schools is making sure they’re cleaned and prepared for those who might need them, he said.

As the division transitions to online learning, teachers haven’t assigned homework, he added.

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Justin Malone has been principal of Jackson-Via Elementary School for two years.

Credit: Mike Kropf/Charlottesville Tomorrow

“We’re not trying to initiate any new instruction. We’re really trying to take build-on concepts, skills and strategies that have been previously taught and really dig deep on those concepts,” he said.

Malone said some of the activities that have been assigned were designed to be enjoyable and engaging. Teachers have come up with problems and challenges that can help students think critically and challenge their brain, he said. That can include assigning children things to explore around the home or neighborhood. 

“It’s a collection of ideas and choices for you to consider and work from home and do the things that you feel comfortable and make sense,” Malone said.

So far, Malone said he’s spent time making sure parents have the necessary resources, supporting them and ensuring they know how to make sense of the instructional resources that they’re receiving. 

“We’re a fairly small, densely populated school division, but we have a lot of resources. We’re just trying to make sure that we’re taking care of ourselves and checking on each other [on a] multiple times a day basis,” he said.  “And then checking on each other to see if what we’re doing as best as we can is consistent across our school, and that all of our families are being supported in a similar fashion.” 

The high school also has launched an online module to keep students fresh on their content, Irizarry said. As teachers log into the system, they will try to see who’s not logged in and also see if there are students experiencing any technological difficulties.  

“Our job is to make sure that they’re still supported, and that they know that Charlottesville City Schools and our counselors are still there for them whether it’s remotely but we’re doing everything we can to stay in touch whether that’s through instruction or counsel,” he said.

City and county schools expect to refine their instructional plans within the next two weeks. Collins wrote that Albemarle’s plan will go into effect the week of April 12.