El Paso school district superintendents say virtual learning technology and heightened sanitation measures will continue playing important roles as students and educators tread cautiously, but hopefully, toward learning in post-pandemic classrooms.
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Technology has played a vital role in education systems in America for decades, but teachers have learned new skills and have more online tools to support remote teaching and learning, Canutillo ISD Superintendent Pedro Galaviz said in a December message to parents.
“By necessity, all of us took crash courses in the use of an array of technology-based platforms and applications,” Galaviz said in the message.
“Imagine a teacher working directly with a small group of students in the classroom, while others are positioned at a bank of computers learning through virtual programs — platforms mastered by teachers during the health crisis,” he said. “This is but one example. The sky’s the limit.”
Socorro ISD Superintendent José Espinoza said technology has played a key role in helping the district prepare students for college, careers and life. In 2015, the district made a commitment to boost digital teaching and learning in classrooms.
“When the pandemic hit, we were able to transition to remote learning with the strong foundation we already had with blended learning, digital learning and technology in our classrooms,” Espinoza said.
“Most definitely, with what we have learned and how we have adapted, remote learning and technology will continue to be an important part of our students’ future education. The pandemic transformed how education is delivered overnight and we will capitalize on the good that has come out of it to prepare our students for a new world that is still being reinvented every day,” Espinoza said.
Ysleta ISD Superintendent Xavier De La Torre said the district started an initiative to provide Chromebook laptops to nearly all YISD students prior to the pandemic.
“We’ve adapted to the 21st-century classroom, where technology is a large part of learning. Given that we are allowing parents the option to keep their students learning online the rest of this school year, technology will remain a large component of learning the rest of this year and in the future,” De La Torre said.
EPISD interim Superintendent Vince Sheffield said remote learning could continue playing a role in post-pandemic learning environments.
“As long as parents have an option to choose that modality of instruction, then I believe school districts have to be prepared to provide that type of remote learning, as long as the pandemic exists,” Sheffied said.
“We have to be prepared for it and I just think that in the future, not only within our K-12 environment, but also in our higher learning environment, I do believe that will be a possibility.”
The district has provided laptops or iPads to all EPISD students and the district provides Wi-Fi hotspots for students with limited access to internet, Sheffield said.
“In terms of one-to-one solutions, that’s something that all districts need to consider,” Sheffield said.
Heightened school sanitation to continue indefinitely
Espinoza said SISD will continue with heightened safety measures, cleaning and disinfecting schools frequently and thoroughly as part of the district’s regular efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus, after first taking proactive sanitation steps in February.
“We will continue to maintain heightened efforts for as long as deemed necessary by our local, state, and national health authorities and as we observe necessary in our school communities,” Espinoza said.
De La Torre said protocols in place to protect students and staff will continue indefinitely.
“The classroom our teachers and students return to will look different, this is to ensure their health and safety,” De La Torre said. “Our heightened health and safety protocols will continue indefinitely.”
Sheffield said EPISD will also continue these protocols into the near future.
“I think we’re in for the long run, I can’t give you a point of reference, but I can say that we as a district will have heightened protocols in place until such time that we can relax those, it doesn’t matter if it’s a year from now, two years from now, whatever it takes, that’s the way we’re approaching this,” Sheffield said.
Parents, teachers cultivate closer relationships
Certain aspects of a physical learning environment may be difficult to replicate in a virtual classroom. Galaviz said teachers often rely on physical cues from their students in face-to-face instruction; something that may be harder to replicate on a computer screen.
“Human beings, by nature, thrive on physical gathering. They are sustained through social connections. This is particularly true when it comes to education. Teachers are most effective when they can see their students’ reactions,” Galaviz said.
Espinoza said remote learning has prompted parents and teachers to develop stronger relationships.
“With remote learning, these relationships certainly have evolved for the better with every person involved learning together, experiencing good days and bad together, and getting used to operating remotely via Microsoft Teams, Zoom, WebEx, or whatever platform worked best on that day or for that meeting or for that lesson,” Espinoza said.
To help SISD parents continue to adjust, the district launched its Parent Education Support and Communication Call Center in August to advise, support and assure parents about topics related to learning during the pandemic.
De La Torre said new tools were also created to help make YISD parents’ lives easier.
“Although the format of interacting has changed, the communication has continued. For example, parents can now receive Google Classroom summaries for their students via e-mail, we have the Home Access Center for parents to monitor grades and attendance,” De La Torre said.
Sheffield said parents and teachers may have developed more supportive relationships, from both sides of the computer screen.
“During one phase of this pandemic, the parent became the guide or the facilitator for learning at home with the children, so now they see on a day-to-day basis the way teachers instruct, the things they have to prepare for,” Sheffield said.
“It’s different when you take a child to school and drop them off at 8 o’clock and pick them up at 3:30, notwithstanding the fact that students have homework. But when you can hear someone instructing, when you can see visibly what’s going on in the classroom, I do think a semblance of appreciation was built over time over these last 10 months.”
Cristina Carreon can be reached at [email protected] or found on Twitter @Cris_carreon90.
This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: El Paso Superintendents: technology, sanitation to play key roles in post-pandemic classrooms