Home school fun

HARLINGEN — They’re charged and ready to launch.

The Harlingen school district has added another feature to its online learning initiative, this time to create virtual fun for kids and their families to enjoy at home.

The feature, Virtual Fun@Home, begins Wednesday, and administrators hope parents and kids will waste no time logging on to activity on the School@Home page of the school district’s web site.

“With our Virtual Fun@Home, they have a menu of different activities that they can do,” said Veronica Kortan, administrator for organizational development for the Harlingen district.

These interactive activities include a variety of fun challenges, according to Kortan.

“A digital scavenger hunt,” Kortan said. “That’s great. Our kids love that kind of thing. We have virtual tours they can do. Amazing Race? They can do virtual activities that are like that, really, really fun.”

She and Mireya Galvan, coordinator of library services, spoke with great exuberance about the new feature.

“This week we’re rolling out our two lessons,” Galvan said. “One is for an elementary digital escape room, and there’s a secondary digital escape room for our secondary students. What’s in the escape room is it’s a challenge for students.”

As is the case throughout the world, the district has faced unique challenges presented by the COVID-19 situation. Immediately upon closing the campuses, teachers, administrators and school board members mobilized to keep students engaged in the safety of their homes.

What they created was the innovative framework upon which the district continues to build its online services.

“When we did School@Home, our technicians in our district did an outstanding job, and we’re really proud of their work,” Kortan said. “They prepared thousands of devices to be able to distribute to our students in a matter of two to three days. I mean those guys worked endless, almost 13 or 14-hour days, to get the job done.”

The devices were prepared for online learning and placed in the hands of students. In the fear and apprehension of these unprecedented times, there was a tangle of anxiety, excitement and perhaps fascination by the novelty of the new system. And of course, the predictable confusion of the process.

In other words, “How do we use this?”

That’s why the district’s technicians immediately set up a call center manned by 15 people on-hand 12 hours a day to answer any questions, Kortan said.

“They moved their time and effort to helping our school community be successful with that,” she said. “When we talk about Harlingen Strong, that’s it. All hands on deck, everybody coming to the table and ready to get things done.”

She also commended Galvan and the district’s library media specialists for setting up a virtual library where students could check out digital books on their digital devices to read at home.

“We have had such a huge campaign for literacy,” Kortan said. “We made sure that we brought the libraries to them and still gave our kids the opportunity to check out books and continue that.”

This means students in the district will continue the challenge of academics, the challenge of reading and the challenges of the escape rooms in Virtual Fun.

“They’ll go through a series of questions about a particular subject area or, they have to figure out the questions that are being asked from the challenge,” Galvan said. “Most likely it will be related to a reading or a book or authors.”

The word “escape” has a special poignancy here, as books are a great way for kids to escape into a far away place, away from the turmoil of these uncertain times.