What Will Virtual Learning Look Like This Fall?

Public School System Plans Improved Model

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Now that Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) has had the summer to prepare for a virtual learning scenario, school officials are implementing a plan that includes more real-time learning and graded work, along with daily attendance.

When kids were sent home during the spring semester due to the coronavirus, AACPS was left to scramble. In place of real-time instruction, students were often given access to recorded lessons.

“We certainly learned from our families, from our teachers and from our parents, that students need to see their teachers,” said AACPS Superintendent Dr. George Arlotto during a virtual Board of Education meeting on July 22. “And teachers want to see their students. And so, while the recorded asynchronous lessons aided parents and others, and certainly those teachers with their own young families at home … we know what was lacking, and that was the real-time instruction.”

Teaching and learning will account for four days of the school week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday), with the fifth day (Wednesday) used for real-time learning support for either individuals or small groups.

Elementary schedules will include circle time for social development, and real-time learning for three to four hours. Middle and high school schedules will include A/B days, with three to four hours of real-time learning per day, and the option of virtual tutoring in the evenings.

AACPS is examining ways to offer in-person instruction for special education students, ESOL (English as a second language) students, and for CAT North and CAT South, which provide career and technology education classes.

To make virtual learning possible, students will use Google Classroom, Google Meet and Google Voice this fall, as they did in the spring. Teachers have undergone additional professional development to better understand the programs.

The biggest hurdle has been making technology accessible to every student. Last year, some students were without internet in their homes.

“We have about 150 families that were not directly connected,” Arlotto said. “We know who they are, and we continue to work with our business partners, Comcast and Verizon and Broadstripe, on a case-by-case basis to get those families connected.”

Arlotto said AACPS had about 45,000 devices pre-COVID, and the school system now has about 63,000 devices, with 30,000 more on order. AACPS wants to provide one device for every family and, ultimately, one device for every student. More than 80,000 students attend Anne Arundel County public schools.

“The priority is to make sure that attendance is taken, is that every student has a device … and every student is connected to the internet, so we’re able to take away those barriers so that they can interact with their teacher, interact with their classmates, five days a week,” Arlotto said.

AACPS is providing backpacks with school supplies for all students from pre-K through fifth grade. Backpacks will include math textbooks, folders, notebooks, clipboards, pens, pencils, headphones and more. Directions for picking up students' backpacks will be given to parents by school principals in late August.

Arlotto also said teachers will issue diagnostic tests the first three weeks of school to identify and address opportunity gaps.

AACPS hopes all of these efforts will put parents at ease, but many are concerned about child care and giving their children a good education. In a fall survey question answered 45, 121 times by county parents through July 3, about 46% said they preferred in-person school daily, while 32.5% supported a combined model with both face-to-face and virtual learning. Less than 22% voted for an all-virtual model.

With 4,766 completed surveys, the Severna Park feeder system accounted for 10.56% of responses, more than any other school cluster.

Arlotto said a hybrid of in-school and virtual learning is still possible later in the fall.

During the Board of Education meeting, Anne Arundel County health officer Nilesh Kalyanaraman addressed the belief that the coronavirus is no deadlier than the flu.

“I get that comparison, and in mild cases, that comparison holds, but not for everybody,” Kalyanaraman said. “We’re seeing hospitalizations in younger people. They might not die, but they have pretty significant consequences from it.”

To learn more about fall reopening plans, visit www.aacps.org/fall2020.


Extra Points

1. Dana Schallheim (Board of Education, District 5) asked about safe places for students to congregate, especially because many families are struggling to find child care. Arlotto said he likes the concept of bringing students together on a limited basis.

“You can’t have teachers, because teachers are teaching during the school day,” Arlotto said. “So is that a place that we could use [teaching assistants]? Is that a place that we could use long-term subs or substitute teachers to be with students in buildings so they could open up their laptops, access our Wi-Fi, get a lunch and do their virtual learning? … But it also can’t be day care. It’s not child care. It’s not eight hours of child care a day, because we as a school system don’t provide child care.”

2. Student board member Drake Smith asked about standardized testing. Arlotto said “We hope this fall to be able to offer those in some way, shape or form,” but the number of students in a room will be limited.

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