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School districts use distance learning to educate area students during closures

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, both Aubrey and Pilot Point ISDs are using technology and distance learning to help area kids stay up to date with their course work.

Aubrey and Pilot Point ISDs both make some use of technology in their standard operations but are now offering their course work online only during their extended closures.

Aubrey ISD Assistant Superintendent Terrie McNabb has spearheaded the efforts for distance learning, Superintendent David Belding said.

“First and foremost, our full focus is to deliver the best instructional experience for our students, while they are at home and to work with parents to deliver that well,” he said.

He’s proud of the teachers as well as McNabb and her team, he said.

“They worked all last week on preparing and getting ready, everything from creating Google Classroom, getting that set up at the secondary level and upper elementary to some of the teachers using Canvas,” he said.

The plan also included physical work packets available for those who have limited internet access, he said. Aubrey ISD was offering a curbside pickup of paper packets of work, but it announced on Wednesday that the stay at home order had changed the district’s ability to offer that service to families for the foreseeable future.

“If you cannot secure a device or internet at all, please reach out to your principal and we will find an alternate method to deliver the packets to you and your child,” the statement said.

Aubrey ISD’s plan set up three different ways for parents to communicate their technology needs to the school, McNabb said.

“I know they delivered several computers to homes, and we’re working on getting Wi-Fi hotspots for some people as well,” she said.

How distance learning close to the end of the school year affects the seniors and high school students was a top concern when the plan was designed, Belding said.

“The high school has worked hard to design it in such a way to keep everybody on track to earn their credits,” he said. “That way our seniors will stay on track to graduate at the end of May.”

The pandemic is not a static situation, so the plan may need adjusting as time goes on, he said.

“But as far as them completing course work, completing their credits and qualifying to graduate high school, we’re committed to making sure that our seniors get that done.”

The district is working on the two contingencies of being shut down and relying on distance learning through both the end of April and the end of May, he said.

“We’re ready to go for probably two to three weeks if needed,” McNabb said. “And, any adjustments we need to make to make sure instruction continues on, we’ll do that.”

The teachers are planning their ongoing lessons to be distance-learning accommodating, Belding said. That way however the pandemic unfolds, Aubrey ISD is prepared.

“We’re all working here, there and everywhere,” Pilot Point ISD Assistant Superintendent Harold Colson said. “What we set up, probably just like every other district in the state, is on our website.”

On PPISD’s website an alert pops up, he said.

“There’s a link and it goes to our ‘PPISD COVID-19 e-learning and informational updates,’” he said. “And from there, we’ve instructed our parents, we’ve sent out letters, we’ve instructed all of our parents and students that that’s where they’ll go to get lesson plans.”

All updates can be found on the site, he said.

“Since this is such a fluid situation, just the area to try and keep them updated, because things are changing day-to-day, hour-to hour,” he said. “… But that’s mainly where we’re going to do our e-learning.”

PPISD is primarily using Google Classroom and Canvas, he said.

“As far as our e-learning, yes, each campus has streamlined their platform,” he said. “Those are the main two.”

The district administration is on conference calls with the Commissioner of Education almost daily, he said. And at this point the district is closed until April 3, which should have little effect on graduating seniors.

“Our instruction has been right now, as we sit here today, April 3,” he said. “So, right now if we go back to school April 3, really nothing’s going to be affected, but if this continues to be drawn out go longer and longer, then we’ll have to start addressing all those things with prom and graduation.”

For now, all the dates are still on track with where they were at the beginning of the school year, he said.

To help families without access to technology, PPISD passed out laptops at Pilot Point Middle School on Friday, he said.

“We’re passing out laptops to any family that doesn’t have a device at home for their students to complete their work,” Director of Instructional Technology Valerie Wall wrote in an email. “We are working really hard to make sure every family has everything they need for at home learning.”

Pilot Point ISD students in grades K-8 weren’t issued devices to take homeat the beginning of the school year, like the high school students were back in August, she said.

“As we were handing out those computers, we were letting them know that most cell phone companies are giving free hotspots on their cell phones,” Colson said.

A lot of major wireless companies are offering free hotspot access for the next 30 days, he said. Wall put all the links out for families to access on the ISD website.

“We do have other contingencies we’re discussing and batting around with the administrations that we can try to do,” he said. “But this is the first day of the first week that we’ve got this up and running.”

If a large number of students don’t have access to the e-learning plan, there are paper packets being made to accommodate.

“The teachers and the principals are in contact with the parents, and if they just don’t have any access at all, we’ll be sending each of those kids a paper packet in the mail where they’ll get the same work kids online are getting.”

The packets will also include a postage-free return envelope, he said.

“So, we do have an old-school, pencil, paper, ready to go,” he said. “The principals are getting that ready today, and we have a goal of trying to get those out by at the latest, Wednesday or Thursday for every campus.”

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