HARLINGEN — It was the first day of school – in mid March.
The Harlingen school district officially launched its new School@Home program Wednesday to continue classroom learning off campus.
The program was developed by school administrators and educators, as well as board members, during emergency meetings last week. The new system was created in response to the COVID-19 outbreak that has forced everyone to practice social distancing.
Campuses are closed.
The district sent out an email earlier this week detailing the new off-campus learning.
“Students and parents,” read the email. “Welcome to online learning provided by your secondary school campuses. We understand that this new type of learning may be new to you. Please know that as a member of the HCISD family we are here to support and guide you.”
The district sent a similar message regarding elementary education.
Teachers and administrators at campuses throughout the district stood ready to deliver iPads for online instruction, as well as printed instructional packets for those without Internet access at home.
At the Dr. Abraham P. Cano Freshman Academy, administrators met a steady stream of parents.
“We’re trying to get everything done,” said Principal Imelda Trevino as a parent pulled up in front of the school for an iPad.
Boxes of the devices waited under a tarp to shield them from the late morning sun.
“It’s a tough situation,” Trevino said. “We still want to continue with the learning. We are giving out devices, iPads, so that students can communicate from home. We had 130 devices go out yesterday and we expect 150 to go out today.”
The first day of school was going well.
“Kids are logging in and we can monitor what they are doing, the assignments they are completing and the grades they are getting as they go through the work,” Trevino said. “Our teachers are already calling the kids at home to offer support with instruction as well. Here we have great teachers.”
Students of the Harlingen Performing Arts Conservatory were adjusting to the new regimen.
“We miss the rush of performing and we miss all the directors, but it’s been nice to have a break from all the hustle,” said Aaron Blount, 15, speaking on behalf of both she and fellow Conservatory student Jorge Gonzales, 16.
Both are in the musical theater track at the Conservatory.
The district’s initiatives so far have addressed the needs of the corps curriculum, including math, science and reading.
While online learning addresses the academic needs of all students, performing arts is a little harder to learn in virtual reality.
The district is also working on a way to address the needs of students in the trades, such as electrical and automotive.
The situation kind of puts all students, regardless of their specific inclinations, into the same boat, trying to figure out online learning.
“At first it was really confusing with all the different platforms offered,” Aaron said. “But once we learned how to organize the workload and time manage ourselves, it seemed a lot easier. We’re grateful to the district for providing for us and doing everything they can to keep us learning.”
One of the main “platforms” they’re using is Edgenuity, which allows teachers to upload a curriculum with questions that are meant to be completed over the span of a week.
“There’s also Zoom, which allows the teachers to open a group video chat with the class and teach face to face with students,” she said.
Faculty, administrators and school board members are using Zoom extensively for all manner of communication.
Aaron said the learning curve does require an extra bit of concentration.
“We’re taking English II, algebra II and pre-AP chemistry on the platforms,” she said. “I think it’s harder to maintain focus on the work sometimes because whatever’s going on around us could be distracting. But once we zero in the work gets done pretty easily.”
Back at Cano, pre-AP World Geography Teacher Raul Galvan was still working with his students in virtual reality.
“I check their progress in the program they use called Edgenuity, and I monitor their progress online,” he said.
When he wasn’t checking in with his students, he was preparing instructional packets which sat on tables inside a hallway. Trevino looked over those packets with admiration.
“Our teachers made these packets in 48 hours,” she said. “We are creating all these lessons online as well. These are 85 teachers working from home for two days.”
Just then, Esperanza Avalos pulled up with her nephew James Munoz to pick up his assignments. She appreciated the work the district had put in to the new system.
“They are doing good,” she said. “I was a former teacher, and I look at what they are doing to help the students.”
Micaela Urbina, who was picking up materials for her son Isaiah, acknowledged the district’s work.
“The only thing I have is that the school district needs more hotspots for students that don’t have Internet,” she said with some exasperation.
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