Lawrence district, Boys & Girls Club take measures to help students begin fall semester Tuesday with 6 weeks of remote learning

photo by: Nick Krug/Journal-World File Photo

Lawrence Public Schools district offices, 110 McDonald Drive.

As the Lawrence school district is set to begin its fall semester with remote learning on Tuesday, some families have been left in the lurch dealing with issues from lack of child care during the school day to spotty internet service.

To help those families, the school district and the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence have set up new programs, offered additional technology and continued previous services that may help relieve the stresses of the ongoing remote learning period.

The district and its teachers also recently reached out to parents to help explain how instruction is expected to be conducted this fall and what services are available to those in need.

“We reassured them this is not an ideal situation for anyone and as much as we can provide structure, we will,” Deputy Superintendent Anna Stubblefield told the Journal-World recently.

Lawrence students will begin their 2020-21 school year with at least six weeks of remote learning because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. While the district is expected to switch to a hybrid learning model afterward, students could be learning at least partially remotely for the entirety of the fall semester.

While the district has taken measures to help families adapt to the changes, Stubblefield said how the district operates during the ongoing pandemic is always subject to change.

“In education, people are used to specific structures and know what to expect,” Stubblefield said. “We all are going to have to be adaptable and support one another and always put what’s best for the students at the center of our decisions.”

Child care assistance

One of the toughest issues for parents during remote learning periods has been finding a way to provide care for their children while also working. The issue could be particularly hard for single parents who are essential workers.

But the Boys & Girls Club has found a solution for some families by expanding its service. Thanks to federal funding to help with issues caused by the pandemic, the club — which normally provides after-school programs for students — has expanded services to all-day in-person programming, said Alissa Bourneuf, a spokeswoman for the club.

The expanded programming is scheduled to begin Tuesday, the same day as the beginning of Lawrence’s fall semester. It will provide support for students to complete all remote learning responsibilities, while also providing additional education support when their remote learning classes are not in session. The programs will also offer meals to students.

The Boys & Girls Club accepted the vast majority of requests from families who applied for their children to participate in the program, which will take in about 370 students on a daily basis.

“As you can imagine, it was heart-wrenching to hear from families who are under so much stress trying to provide for their children, while also making sure they don’t fall behind in school,” Bourneuf said.

However, Bourneuf noted the club received 426 requests, meaning about 56 students could not be served. The students who were not accepted are on a wait list and could be added if one of the previously accepted students drops out of the program, she said.

But the school district is hoping more community child care services will be available soon. Stubblefield said the Education Unified Command has a group currently working on finding more child care services for all of the school districts in the county.

Those additional programs have not yet been established and likely won’t be before school begins. Stubblefield said she hopes more of those programs will be set up soon to help vulnerable families, but she is not sure how long it will take.

“We would like to have it done sooner (rather) than later,” Stubblefield said. “But I don’t have an exact time frame. Ideally we would have something in place at the end of (this) week … but I don’t know if that’s possible.”

Internet access

While students are learning from home, they will need internet access to log into their classes.

Stubblefield said the school district has purchased about 300 additional hotspot devices, which provide internet access to technology like laptops, regardless of the user’s location.

The school district already had many hotspot devices it could provide because of its work with the 1 Million Project Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide internet access to students who do not have it at home. Stubblefield said she’s not sure how many total hotspots the district can provide, but it is continuing to work with families to make sure students can log in.

Additionally, Stubblefield said Midco, a local internet provider, is continuing to partner with the district to provide internet services to low-income families. In the spring, when remote learning first began, Midco offered free internet for families with students to make sure they could access their remote classes.

“Midco is still being a great partner by providing, if not free, very low cost (services),” Stubblefield said.

The district will also be keeping an eye on attendance of students during remote learning to see which students are not engaging with their classes. Stubblefield said the district will then reach out to those families to see why that is happening.

“If connectivity is a barrier, then we can work through that with those individual families,” she said

Attendance and instruction

While the initial learning method will be the same as it was in the spring, the expectation of students will be much different this fall.

When the school district was first dealing with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and the state closed school buildings, it chose for its remote learning program to only allow for students to improve their grades, rather than see them dip during a stressful time, the Journal-World has reported.

That will not be the case this semester, as students will be starting fresh and will be expected to attend class and finish school work just as they normally would during a normal school setting. Teachers will use conventional grading practices and will be taking attendance during “live” instruction, which occurs five times a day at the elementary level and during each class period at the middle and high schools. The teachers will also track time and attendance when students are working independently or in small groups on the district’s online learning platforms.

Stubblefield said the standard of education is an attempt to match what students normally would see in regular in-person classes.

“We’ll enter with grace and understanding, but the expectation of the rigor that was there previously,” Stubblefield said. “All of us have had this time to plan to make sure we can engage students in whatever situation we are in — remote, hybrid or fully in person.”

To help communicate that expectation to families and students, the district held virtual parent-teacher conferences in recent weeks.

“We’re hoping that would give us information to help us address unique needs of our families, but at the same time prepare our families,” Stubblefield said.

Student meals

As shown in the spring, many students are reliant on the school district to receive regular meals throughout the school year.

In the spring and summer, the district operated grab-and-go meal services to make sure those students were still fed, even though they were no longer going to their school buildings.

Julie Boyle, a spokeswoman for the school district, said the United States Department of Agriculture has granted schools the ability to extend their free meal programs, which has allowed the Lawrence meal services to continue during the remote learning period this fall.

Starting Tuesday, grab-and-go meals will be available for pickup Monday through Friday, with weekend meals distributed on Fridays. The service is available to students 18 and under.

The meal pickup sites this fall are Hillcrest Elementary, noon to 1 p.m.; Kennedy Elementary, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; Sunflower Elementary, 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.; and Lawrence High, 4:30 to 5:45 p.m.

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