/Just another daunting challenge’ Rural districts embrace creative solutions amid coronavirus school closures

Just another daunting challenge’ Rural districts embrace creative solutions amid coronavirus school closures

Nonprofit Mississippi News CLARKSDALE — Allasica Byrd is a respiratory therapist at the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. She works 16-hour shifts in Mississippi Delta hospitals. She puts her own health at risk every day to ensure the safety of patients. Clarksdale native, “Our lives are at risk every day.” “It’s a constant battle. I don’t know if I will bring it home to my family. It’s almost like being in the military. We just go face to face.” She isn’t just concerned about her safety, but she is also concerned about the safety of her children. The single mother of three and business owner is just one of many parents in the state who will be staying at home with their children for the foreseeable future. Schools were closed earlier this month to stop the spread of coronavirus. Mississippi schools will remain closed until April 17th. Governor. Governor Tate Reeves announced that the schools would be closed as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus. The virus has already killed 16 people in Mississippi, while the number continues to rise. Together with the state board of educators, the Mississippi Department of Education has cancelled standardized testing and waived the requirement for school districts to attend school for 180 days. Officials from the department have stated that learning should continue even though schools are closed to the public. The 140 Mississippi school districts are now scrambling for plans to create take-home packets or implement distance learning. Although the department provided guidance to districts on how to use resources during the pandemic it cautioned that “Taking a traditional educational environment online is not an easy task” and warned that “Taking a traditional education online is not an easy task. Rural schools serve 235,000 students in Mississippi, according the National Rural School and Community Trust. Online learning can prove difficult in some districts. According to Census Bureau data, nearly one-fifth Mississippi households don’t own a computer, and almost one-third do not have broadband internet, which is the federal standard for internet speeds. Alan Richard, chairman of the Rural School and Community Trust board, said, “One thing you should keep in mind, teachers and staff at rural schools, particularly in low resource areas fought battles every day.” This is not a new challenge for them in one sense. It’s just another huge challenge.” Areas serving populations that don’t have access to the internet or computers are facing this challenge. They must be creative in order to allow students to learn even when schools are closed. For example, West Bolivar Consolidated Schools District had Chromebooks available, but students weren’t allowed to take them home. Jackie Lloyd, president of the school board, stated that students can now check out Chromebooks from school. Lloyd stated that the school district will be partnering with local churches that have WiFi and would open their doors to students to provide internet access. Lloyd stated, “We are making sure our children don’t miss any instruction.” Clarksdale Collegiate Charter School has taken similar steps to ensure that children have access to WiFi while they are away from school. Clarksdale Collegiate’s executive director Amanda Johnson recently announced that the school bought WiFi hotspots to allow students to use at home. The purchase cost the school $15,000 Johnson stated that the school wanted to provide as many equitable access as possible to its scholars, so they purchased WiFi hotspots for students to take home. The purchase cost $15,000. Allen Pratt is the executive director of National Rural Education Association, and a professor at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga School of Education. Schools across the country face the same decisions. Districts must decide whether or not to continue feeding and how to distribute information to those who don’t have access to the internet. Pratt stated that it will require some private sector support to address this issue. “That’s why community help is going be vital: our churches and faith-based organisations…have to assist with this.” Mississippi companies like C Spire offer free wireless data to students who are able to access approved learning websites. In Mississippi, churches have partnered with local districts to provide free meals for students. Schools are still learning, but they also have to decide whether or not to close their cafeterias. 74.9 percent of students in public schools are eligible for free or reduced lunches this school year. This means that thousands of Mississippi students can depend on school for two meals per day. Cafeteria workers are risking their lives to make sure children are not hungry by offering free breakfast and lunch at more than 400 locations. Some schools deliver meals by school buses, while others allow children to pick them up at school parking lots. Interactive map: Where can children get free food when schools close? Lloyd, who is also the president of the school board, sees parents not knowing how to navigate their child’s online learning platform. Lloyd stated that parents will not be able “to assist their children” as a result. “The superintendent is currently working on a plan so that parents can contact [the district] and they can come in maybe 3 to 5 at a time to learn how to use their program so that they can help their children at home.” Racquel Williams, an educator from the West Tallahatchie Schools District, stated that it’s crucial for parents to teach their children at home. You know how teachers tell you that they meet you wherever they are? This is the situation we’ll find ourselves in as educators. But as parents, we must make a conscious choice to encourage our children and to read something every day,” she stated. Wells-Williams is a mother of four children, three are in school, and knows that she has to do the same for her kids. She is concerned that they meet benchmarks and smoothly transition to the next grade. “We have a kindergartener going to the first grade, a sixth-grader going to a new school, and then there’s an 11th-grader going into his senior year. “How are these changes going to impact them in these transitional grade?” Wells Williams said. “The most important thing for me is how the State (Department of Education), is going to justify these missing days as far as moving these children towards those benchmarks?” Officials from the Mississippi Department of Education have stated that they won’t require school districts to use virtual education because of the difficulties it presents with technology and access, as well as equity for all students. Jason Dean, the board chair of the state’s board of education, stated that he has spent some time working on broadband policy in Mississippi. “It’s pretty obvious to most people we have a disparity in broadband availability, especially in our rural districts.” Dean is also vice president of development for an aerospace company in Madison. The state board of education met on March 26 to suspend several policies that were affected by school closings. State testing has been cancelled, and students won’t be required to take end of year assessments. High school seniors will still graduate this year if they meet the state and district requirements. The school districts will decide how credits are awarded for the current school year. Additionally, the state board has given local school boards the power to modify their graduation policies as long as they comply with state standards. The respiratory therapist Byrd said that while she understood why schools had to be closed, it was a difficult decision for the children. They will miss their peers. They will miss their peers, the experience of high school graduation and proms ….. We are doing our best to ensure everyone is safe and healthy. This will be overcome. This too shall pass.” To support this important work, make a regular donation to our Spring Member Drive today. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. To ensure that our work is aligned with the priorities and needs of all Mississippians, we are listening to you. Click the button below to let us know what you think.