After the Charlottesville School Board unanimously voted to start the academic year virtually, the focus shifted to how to support families.
“I know there are people who will need additional support, and I want to make sure that we’re doing what we can to help them,” board member LaShundra Bryson Morsberger said.
Schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins said Thursday that the division has identified about 200 families who would need child care during the day and that staff members are working with community partners on how to respond to that need and others. The division also is considering training for area nonprofits to enable them to help students with online learning.
“I think in order for this to be successful, none of us feel as if our classroom teachers in our schools will be able to do it alone,” she said. “We will need our partners and we will need to work together.”
Atkins added that the division also needs to hear from families about what they need for virtual learning and encouraged them to talk to their teachers and schools.
Charlottesville schools will have all online classes for the first nine weeks. The school year starts Sept. 8. Division staff will present more information on Aug. 6 about plans for child care and to support students in special education and those learning English.
Jessica Taylor, president of the Charlottesville Education Association, was pleased by the board’s vote late Thursday to follow Atkins’ recommendation. The association supported a responsible reopening as defined by several criteria outlined in early July, including consulting with employees, and helped to craft a plan for online learning.
Many components of that plan were reflected in what the division presented Thursday, Taylor said.
The unanimous vote demonstrated the board values the lives of educators, she said.
“They recognize that we don’t know enough about this virus to be able to say with certainty that people won’t get sick,’ Taylor said. “Their vote told us that they trust that we will provide an engaging, rigorous and supportive virtual learning environment for the students we serve. We look forward to showing them that they made the right choice.”
During Thursday’s meeting and afterward, community groups that will be called upon said they would need training on Canvas, the learning management system used for online learning, and clear communication from the division in order to assist families.
“We’re ready to support the community in the best way we can to make the year as comfortable as possible,” said Mary Coleman, executive director of the City of Promise.
City of Promise is looking at how to open up its building in the Westhaven neighborhood to children during the school day, as well as how to help parents navigate virtual learning. The organization provided virtual academic coaching during the spring and plans to continue to do so.
“Parents who have to work can’t help their child during the day and supervision is an issue,” Coleman said.
Coleman said the nonprofit would like more information about the technology resources that will be provided. If needed, she said, they can help provide computers and internet hot spots to families.
“One Chromebook per family is not enough,” she said.
Division staff said Thursday that they are also talking to Abundant Life Ministries, Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Virginia, Computers for Kids and the local YMCA about ways to support families.
On Saturday, the Brooks Family YMCA announced it will host a Virtual Learning Enrichment Center for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. Registration for the sliding-scale program opens Monday.
Atkins said the division doesn’t want to make parents solely responsible for ensuring students log on for virtual classes and that the teachers want to be involved in setting that expectation — to “send the message strongly to students that this is teaching and learning, you are in school for these hours and you connect to your classroom and to your teacher for those hours and to get those lessons done,” she said.
More information about attendance will be provided this coming week.
Jeanette Abi-Nader, executive director of Cultivate Charlottesville, which runs gardens at the city schools, spoke at the end of the meeting during public comment and said the organization would be interested in receiving training.
“I just wanted to reaffirm as we did at the last School Board meeting that we’ve been preparing the gardens and our garden coordinators are open to hosting classes,” she said. “… We would be available to partner with teachers or partner with families. We especially want to work with students who don’t have the opportunity to garden at home.”
Nathan Walton, executive director of Abundant Life, which works with families in the Prospect neighborhood, said the key concerns from families are child care and support for virtual learning.
“Both in terms of helping them to successfully use online platforms, and in terms of general accountability for logging on to those platforms consistently,” Walton said at Thursday’s meeting. “These concerns are particularly a question for families with parents, who work during school hours, parents who work multiple jobs or single-parent households.”
Walton said the organization is looking at how it can utilize its own volunteers and property to provide academic support and accountability for children.
“But to have any chance of doing that well, we’re going to need a lot of help from the schools,” he said.
Help would include training for volunteers, as well as access to hardcopy learning resources to provide additional support that doesn’t require more screen time.
Atkins told board members that the community is depending on the school system.
“They are depending on us to deliver high-quality instruction in that online environment,” she said. “They are also depending on us to help them to solve some major issues that our community has around child care and supports that they will need in order to make online learning successful.”