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COVID-19: Students continue to learn amid virus pandemic


Dr. Sharon Contreras, superintendent of the Guilford County Schools; Adrian Martinca, chairman and founder of Technology for the Future; Chief Brian James, Greensboro Police Department; and Winston McGregor executive director of the Greensboro Education Alliance. Photo by Ivan S. Cutler/Carolina Peacemaker.

Following an announcement by N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper on March 23, that all N.C. public schools would remain closed thorough May 15, Guilford County Schools (GCS) prepared to deliver more than 700 laptops to students across the county.

Throughout all the changes, GCS is making sure students have the ability to still learn and access the resources they need. GCS teachers have posted lessons, assignments, videos and high-quality digital resources that students can access online via Canvas, the district’s learning management system. Teachers will not be taking attendance or issuing grades during this time. Student log-on information, including a how-to video for parents, can also be found on the district’s website.

GCS has teamed up with Guilford Education Alliance and other community partners to help bridge the digital divide that exists in Guilford County. Technology for the Future issued a challenge of up to $700,000 to bring the cost of reconditioned laptops down to $70 each. At present, GEA has raised $350,000, and is raising an additional $700,000 to purchase up to 10,000 laptops for students. According to the district, about 65.7 percent of district students qualify for free- or reduced-price meals, a common indicator of poverty.

“We’re finding that while many of our students and families may have access to the internet, they may have it through cell phones that don’t support online learning well,” said Superintendent Sharon L. Contreras.

The superintendent also noted the district will receive an additional $125,000 from an educational non-profit organization called Chiefs for Change, to help address the district’s technology needs. The district also shared that it is seeking ways to expand hotspots at more schools, so students can access the internet from school parking lots and it is encouraging telecommunication companies to expand their internet services to serve more families.

Intended to support distance learning, the laptops are just part of the strategic plan GCS has instituted to assist students, in addition to continue providing breakfast and lunch for all students via its “Grab and Go” sites at 40 district schools and 48 satellite sites in neighborhoods and communities. The district will also continue to deliver meals to students living in homeless shelters, motels and other transitional housing.

In addition, GCS has committed to providing childcare for the school-aged children (ages 5 to 12) of local hospital workers. Currently, Shadybrook Elementary in High Point and Irving Park Elementary in Greensboro are providing services from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. GCS employees are staffing the centers, along with county nurses. The centers are not open to the public. GCS is coordinating childcare services with Guilford County Emergency Management and will open other sites as needed.

“We have to do our part to fight the coronavirus pandemic,” said Contreras. “Our experiences during the past two weeks show how interconnected all of us are, and how important roles each of us – schools, government, non-profits, philanthropic organizations, houses of worship and volunteers – play in our communities. We need to do everything we can to support all of those on the front lines of this pandemic.”

While GCS is providing services to school-age students, Guilford Child Development (GCD) has taken on the task of preparing 1,400 meals daily to provide lunch and breakfast for its Head Start/Early Start students at its 13 centers in Greensboro and High Point. GCD is also delivering meals to students. Each GCD center will notify families of the food service available to them – walk-up, car service or delivery.

“We’re all experiencing something very new. We’re responding to what we know the needs are in our community. We anticipate that the resources that families have in their homes will be strained with children not being at school during the day,” said Maria Layne-Stevens, executive director of Guilford Child Development.

Weekly packets filled with learning activities are also distributed along with the daily lunches to continue student learning at home.

“Children will have opportunities to be engaged through activities using everyday items you can find around the home. Teachers are continuing to stay in contact with the families, encouraging them and giving them ideas to keeping their children engaged,” said Stevens.