The start of school in the Tri-Valley looks very different this year as students, teachers and families begin the work of making a successful transition into the new world of distance learning.
In the Pleasanton Unified School District (PUSD), educators have the opportunity to teach from home or in their classrooms as their 15,000 students log on and tune in each day.
Aug. 17 was the first full week of distance learning for the district, and while it was certainly unconventional and more than a little challenging, Patrick Gannon, PUSD coordinator of communication and community engagement, said it was a good kick off to a nontraditional school year.
“The first week went incredibly well,” Gannon said. “We did not expect perfection or the absence of bumps in the road as far as technology goes ... We heard from many teachers that by the end of the week, most of their students were adjusted and engaged in their learning. We know that there will be challenges ahead, but we'll face them with our staff and families. We are in this together.”
Joshua Hill, who teaches science at Foothill High School, reported that, for the most part, the teaching portion of his job is going well, with students doing their best to acclimate to learning science from afar.
“I have found a lot of virtual labs and simulations – some really great ones – but it will never replicate actually doing it with your own hands,” Hill said. “I can't be there to shove their finger through a heart valve or cut the lens off an eyeball. They aren't there to take selfies with brains – the fun part of school.”
The 13,509 students in the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (LVJUSD) have set up their learning stations at home and the LVJUSD IT department provided Chromebooks and hotspot connections. Teachers also participated in professional development that supports the transition to full distance learning.
“Our commitment to academic excellence does not change during distance learning,” said Mike Biondi, assistant superintendent of educational services. “We continue to implement our Framework for Success that provides behavioral and social emotional learning that, together, support the academic success of our students.”
In Dublin, where the unified school district and it’s nearly 13,000 students began full-distance classes on Aug. 13, teachers also have the option of working from home or in the classroom.
Sarah Lopez, director of communication and community engagement for the Dublin Unified School District (DUSD), said the first few weeks have been busy on a number of fronts. As part of the online schedule, the district is employing a learning system called Canvas that allows all students to access their coursework in one place. But with the new technology comes some learning curves and Lopez said additional IT staff have been on hand to help students and teachers navigate through any problems.
“Last week, our DUSD Technology Department received over 1,500 helpdesk tickets (from students) and responded to each one within a half day, and have resolved over 1,000 of them so far,” said Lopez. “They are a great team.”
Other challenges include obtaining and implementing the use of Chromebooks for all students and the necessary bandwidth to keep connections running smoothly.
“At this point, we've distributed over 3,000 Chromebooks and 600 hotspots to support our families and will continue to meet our student’s needs,” said Lopez. “We feel we are off to a strong start.”