Public schools open remotelyBy Yasmine Regester, Peacemaker Staff Writer / August 21, 2020
The first day of school already has a special buzz about it, and Guilford County Schools’ first day for the 2020-2021 school year definitely generated a buzz.
Students were unable to log on to the state supported learning portal for more than three hours on August 17. Guilford County Schools were alerted that the North Carolina Education Cloud (NCEDCloud) was down across the state on Monday morning, preventing thousands of students, parents and teachers from accessing Canvas, GCS’ remote learning management system.
“We were expecting some issues today, something unusual always happens on the first day of school – every year, in every district, in every state in America. We knew this year would not be an exception especially with so many challenges brought by the Coronavirus pandemic. We can’t say we saw this one coming,” said GCS Superintendent Dr. Sharon Contreras.
She also added that families and teachers will need patience.“This is a year like no other in our nation’s history. It’s going to take time and practice,” said Contreras.
Students do not need a GCS device to log into Canvas. According to Contreras, 79,000 tablets have been ordered to distribute to students. Parents can contact their child’s school for a device if needed. Currently, the district is focused on supplying new devices to Kindergarteners, first-graders and newly enrolled students with no at-home access.
GCS is also opening 13 learning centers in various neighborhood schools on August 31, to provide students with Wi-Fi connectivity. The learning centers are not intended to emulate school settings and will not have on-site teachers. Parents will be notified on how to enroll in the learning center nearest to them.
In order to address technology and connectivity issues, GCS has also rolled out its new “smart buses” into communities in Greensboro and High Point. Twice a week, Monday through Thursday, these buses will go into communities that are historically underserved and allow students to use the vehicles’ hotspot capabilities to access the internet for free.
Each smart bus can manage up to 65 simultaneous connections and the Wi-Fi reach for each bus is about 300 feet. Each bus has been outfitted with a rugged Wi-Fi device that provides connectivity to an internet service provider. To protect the health of students and staff, students are not allowed on the buses.For Wi-Fi hotspots at individual schools, the district encourages students to download their work using the hotspot and then return home to complete the work. Students can then return to a hotspot to upload and submit the work for their teachers to review.
The deadline to enroll in GCS’ virtual academies has been extended to September 15.
Families can continue to get grab-and-go meals through Monday, August 31, at the already established 41 school sites and 65 neighborhood locations that can be found on the district web site. The school sites and locations will change on September 1.
Contreras mentioned that the district received televised praise from former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about GCS’ pre-recorded virtual lessons.
“One thing we have that many districts don’t have yet, is the pre-recorded lessons. However, we’re thinking about how we provide wider access to so many of them,” said Contreras. “We know that there are going to be problems with online learning. As we stated, this was not a GCS issue, this was a statewide issue.”
Contreras shared that the district is considering using its television channel, GCSTV or YouTube to give access to pre-recorded lessons. For the first nine weeks of school, GCS’ 173,000 students are expected to participate in remote learning until school is scheduled to reopen on October 20. The school board is expected to make a decision on reopening schools then, based on updated COVID-19 trends and directives from the state. Live, online instruction begins on September 8.