Educators throughout the Tri-Valley are working to improve distance learning programs, plan for graduation requirements, and keep services open for students in need.
The challenges lie in transforming a public school classroom model into a virtual experience, according to district officials in Livermore, Pleasanton and Dublin. Partnerships at county, state and college levels are helping to smooth the transition.
“This is a situation that none of us were able to anticipate or fully prepare for,” said David Haglund, Pleasanton Unified School District (PUSD) Superintendent.
On April 1, Gov. Gavin Newsom urged public and private schools to remain closed for the rest of the school year to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Altogether, about 42,000 K-12 students are enrolled in the Livermore, Pleasanton and Dublin unified school districts, along with Sunol Glen. Students have been learning at home since the county ordered all residents to shelter in place last month.
With 19 schools in Livermore, 15 in Pleasanton and 13 in Dublin, each district is approaching the problem in similar ways, such as setting up and distributing laptops to families who need them.
They’ve also restructured their websites to act as portals to educational materials and resources for parents and students. For example, daily and weekly lesson plans are offered. There are virtual check-ins with teachers in conjunction with packets provided to parents to review homework and grades. They also assign students exercises to meet physical education requirements.
“I hope that (families) understand we are working diligently to make measured decisions, which are in the best interests of their children and our staff,” Haglund said.
In Livermore, the onset of extended distance learning began April 3, when the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (LVJUSD) Board of Directors held an emergency meeting and voted unanimously to extend distance learning.
“Although we’d love nothing more than to welcome all of our students back to our campuses this academic year, our governor, our state and Alameda County superintendent, as well as our own school nurses, advise that to do so compromises the health, not only of our students and staff, but of our entire community,” LVJUSD Superintendent Kelly Bowers said. “While we’re very confident that this was a right and socially responsible decision, it doesn’t make it an easy one.”
LVJUSD has morphed into a shelter-in-place hub of information for parents and students learning from home. Services are also still available for students who need emotional support. To find nurses’ and counselors’ contact information, visit https://www.livermoreschools.org/Page/8830.
PUSD on March 13 reviewed remote learning as the shadow of a shelter-in-place order loomed. Between March 13 and March 20, administrators and staff focused on professional development for teachers, allowing for time to put together educational content. Families also participated in surveys to determine the level of technology each student had at home. Chromebooks were then distributed to families who did not have the available technology.
“While we are still working out kinks, I believe that parents, in large measure, are pleased with how things are going and appreciate the work of our teachers in making this happen on such short notice,” Haglund said.
Dave Marken, Dublin Unified School District superintendent, said the difficulties families have shared with him influenced his district to rethink its grading policy as the year comes to a close.
“We will be presenting to the school board on April 21 a credit/no-credit grading practice,” Marken said. “We believe there are significant equity issues that are impossible, when we don’t have our students in front of us, to address.”
Meanwhile, Google has entered a partnership with the state to ensure free high-quality internet for students for at least three months. The Mountain View-based tech company will also distribute thousands of Chromebooks to support virtual learning.
On the parent level, Livermore resident Jessica Guarda shared that her son with special needs is beginning to adjust, even though the launch of distance learning came with significant challenges. Weeks ago, her nearly 5-year-old was confused by the lack of routine and missed his teachers. He was also especially needy of Guarda, which she deduced was from anxiety that came with change and seeing strangers wearing masks.
“My son is doing a little better with the homework or class work during the day,” Guarda said. “My son's teacher, speech teacher and PE teacher have been sending me material that I can get at the school office and email videos and email material, so that’s been great.”
District officials acknowledge that this school year isn’t like any other. There will be no field trips, no spring sports, no proms and no graduation ceremonies. The Class of 2020 will have very different memories at their reunions.
“My heart hurts for the seniors — and their families — who are missing out on traditions they have been looking forward to for many years,” Haglund said. “We are working with our principals, student leaders and staff to plan something special for our graduates when we are able to come back together.”