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Teaching in a pandemic

Local educators are in for perhaps an even more weird and challenging beginning to the school year than the end of the last. Sept. 8 will see teachers dealing with students in everything from the traditional in-person classes, to a blended remote/in-person plan and even some in virtual school. Should the COVID-19 situation worsen, they could be going back to full remote learning for everyone.

State officials understand how much of the success of this re-entry depends on access to the internet for our kids.

Tablets and laptops are being prepared for distribution, and Wednesday, the governor announced a $6 million Kids Connect program to improve access to wireless internet. The plan involved 1,000 wireless hotspots at 688 K-12 schools, 255 public libraries, 323 higher education facilities, and 31 state parks. Those are expected to be running by Sept. 8, and for students with limited access to transportation, bus transportation would be provided.

But there are problems. What about the folks, who, like some in Clay County right now, are dealing with continued internet outages in their communities. (Reportedly they were assured they would have internet access again — and they did, at about 10 p.m. one evening; only to find it back out again by 8 a.m. the next day. It has been a problem all week.) One woman dealing with that specific situation wondered how in the world we are all supposed to be working from home and/or helping students learn at home, if even communities that normally have reliable internet access are suffering such outages.

Administrators will have their hands full making sure students are not able to make “the internet was out” the modern equivalent of “the dog ate my homework.”

Meanwhile, there is the problem of kids who simply do not learn and perform well outside the classroom. I spoke to a gentleman this week who admitted his grandson was “just not a computer learner,” but that he is a smart kid who does very well when he is in a classroom with human interaction and structure. What are we going to do for those kids if full remote learning becomes a necessity again?

We cannot simply return to trying to maintain the knowledge that had been gained by mid-March 2020. Kids and parents deserve an adjusted approach, if we get to that point.

Well, first kids and parents deserve to have ALL of us take the precautionary measures that might just stem the spread of this virus and keep in-person classes possible. Seriously, people. Wear a mask and use your head.

Meanwhile, the best brains at our school districts are likely working with tech experts to try to solve more problems than just the couple I’ve pointed out. After all, it hasn’t been all that long since Wood County Schools handled an almost total tech shutdown while they fixed some security flaws. They know they’ve got to navigate this new territory properly.

I wish them the best of luck. (Let’s try not to think about what this dramatic increase in mandated screentime might be doing to the younger set.)

What is happening now is going to change education forever. In many ways, there’s no going back.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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