Teaching kids at home in the middle of a pandemic isn’t easy — especially for working parents.
Families, teachers and administrators in Metro Nashville Public Schools have been trying to figure out a way to keep students learning since COVID-19 concerns closed schools on March 12.
The district rolled out its first structured education plan last week, Remote Learning 2.0, but parents say the efforts are too little too late.
Samantha Eagle, a parent at Lockeland Elementary in East Nashville, is a health care provider at a local hospital, where her husband also works. She’s been able to work from home part-time during the pandemic, but with three kids she still has little time on her hands.
This makes remote learning a challenge, especially when you have a first-grader who’s too young to navigate advanced technology platforms. Eagle says someone has to sit beside him while going through every step when going through learning applications.
“He has to get on Flipgrid for his morning meeting. Then, he has to log out of that. And then he has to get on Seesaw for his 10-minute instructional exercise,” says Eagle. “And then somebody has to navigate EPIC to find the book he’s supposed to read to go along with the science lesson that they’re doing online.”
Eagle and her husband spent weeks creating a routine for their kids. They had help from Lockeland teachers and support from administrators, but they felt they were left to flounder by the district.
Now, she says, they’re expected to drop everything and adjust to the district’s latest plan.
“If it really was that important for Metro to have this kind of a platform, or to try to roll something like this out, maybe we could have thought about this two months ago?” says Eagle.
The remote learning rollout hasn’t been easy to deal with for any parent. Many students still don’t have laptops. Other parents say there have been problems getting online-learning access codes from teachers.
The district says its first priority was addressing the humanitarian need in Metro schools by getting food to students through meal distribution. This caused a delay in addressing the technology needs.
But Adrienne Battle, the director of schools, says the district is now ready to help students address their academic needs.
“We launched Remote Learning 2.0 to ensure that there will be a strong structure in place for MNPS students to continue learning at home — even as our school facilities remain closed for the rest of the school year,” Battle told school board members during an online meeting.
A spokesman for the district says they understand the challenges of shifting to a remote learning environment and are actively working to bridge the technology gap. The district loaned out 5,100 laptops since the transition to online teaching. They’re also sending out 5,000 more — with preloaded learning materials specific to the needs of the students receiving them.
The centerpiece of the district’s new approach is Schoology, a learning app. It’ll be used by third through 11th-graders. The district hopes getting those students on the same app will create more uniformity in instruction.
Last week was the first it was in use. The district says 55% of students who had access to Schoology logged in.
But this late in the game, with only weeks left in the school year, some parents don’t see the point in switching the platform.
“If it’s not going to be graded … I can find other things at home to do to teach my children,” says Natasha Gooch, a parent at Buena Vista Elementary School in North Nashville. “Then, versus going through the process of getting a laptop, it’s too much of a headache.”
Gooch says the last-minute rollout of a district-wide plan is part of a larger pattern of school leaders failing to provide her children with an adequate education.
In the fall, her son’s third grade teacher left the classroom after only one week. After that, he spent months being taught by substitutes and temporary instructors.
Then, he spent several weeks out of school due to an illness, before the COVID-19 pandemic began. She says she requested a distance learning plan from school leaders, but that it was a struggle to get one.
Now, because of the coronavirus, she fears he’ll be even less prepared for next year.
“Our children’s education in public school is definitely not taken seriously,” says Gooch.
Gooch says, while her son’s teachers have made efforts, the district should have better plans to support students.