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WLRN Connects: Getting Ready For The Virtual Start Of A New School Year

It is incereasingly likely that South Florida public schools will start the new year with at-home learning due to the coronavirus.

When teachers and students go back to school, most of them will login from home.


In March, school quickly moved online as buildings closed to slow the spread of COVID-19. Now, with the next school year a few weeks away, classes for most students and teachers will start the same way they ended in the spring — online.

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WLRN heard from students, parents and teachers about preparing for the virual start of school.
We know there were lots of problems when schools closed in the spring, and classes went online: Technical glitches kept kids from logging on, families struggled to get online, siblings had to share computers or tablets, some families didn't have the gear or the connection to join class online, teachers lost touch with their students — especially the ones who needed help the most. 

Ethan Joly is 9 years old and a third grader at Eagle Ridge Elementary School in Broward county. He wrote a letter to the school board. He wrote that distance learning "wasn't fun because I missed my friends and teachers." But he was happy everyone was safe, and that's why he asked the board to keep schools closed.


"Teachers are super heroes, but they can't fight coronavirus," he wrote.


Ethan said he's been busy getting school supplies like crayons, markers and paper, as he gets ready to start third grade online. He plans on attending his virtual classes from a computer on his desk in his bedroom "with all my supplies."


"He's ready," said his mom, Lindsay. "I think that what happened in the spring was crisis learning. It wasn't distance learning. No one really had time to prepare for that."


Eagle Ridge Elementary School 3rd grader Ethan Joly wrote a letter to the Broward County School Board asking that the school year begin online to help keep teachers safe.

Emily Brazil caught COVID-19 before school was out in the spring. She will be a junior at Coral Shores High School in Tavernier this fall. She said virtual learning helped give her flexibility to continue her studies as she recovered.

And with a new school year beginning online, she said she is approaching it "in a more academic stance."

"It's made me more motivated toward my goals of looking more into colleges and careers since I have so much time on my hands," she said.

Veteran Miami-Dade high school teacher Ceresta Smith said students should "expect much of the same as what happened in the spring" except she anticipates less leeway for students. "if we are in a distance learning system, I think (students) are going to be held more accountable."


Smith noted teachers were encouraged to allow students to turn in assignments late during the spring experience, but now teachers are "pushing the district to give us some concrete guidelines so we'll know exactly what we can communicate to the students as far as expectations."


Brazil agreed that stricter guidelines would be helpful for students. "There's more of a lack of motivation because there wasn't really anything holding students accountable towards actually completing the work online," she said. 


One of the biggest challenges of virtual learning is meeting the needs of students with disabilities. Some kids need special therapies or extra help from school staff members, and that can be really tough from afar. So much so, the Broward County school board is considering bringing some students with disabilities back to school for three days a week to make sure they get what they need.


Middle school teacher Michael Gallo teaches 90 students — 25 of them are students with special needs. He makes modifications to his lessons that tailor the material to the student.


In the spring, he recalled giving a quiz that some special education students had trouble with, beacuse of how the quiz looked online.


"It didn't look like the normal test," Gallo said. "I had to talk to a lot of students one-on-one and go through a couple of the questions with them. Once they saw the process of what I was expecting of them, they were they were able to get the work done."


Julie Sunshine teaches small groups of young students with autism at Eagle Ridge Elementary School in Coral Springs. She says she has helped parents bring home what had been normal parts of the students' school routines such as opening their own items during lunch or build independence. "The students need so much help with being away."


Tips for parents from Gallo; take the first week of school and get familiar with how to communicate with teachers and with the different learning platforms.

"Show your kids how to write an email from scratch. Show your kids how to put an attachment to an email and do a few test runs," he said.