By Cathleen Morgan
Just over a month ago, our educational world went topsy-turvy. The COVID-19 related decision to move to virtual learning for the foreseeable future precipitated one of the greatest challenges ever faced by the School District of Lee County. One day we were teaching and learning mostly in brick and mortar schools as we headed into spring break. One week later, we were handing out thousands of Chromebooks to our elementary students. The week after, we began providing thousands of students with ‘grab & go’ meals from school bus ramps and bus stops. Three weeks later, our instructional staff started teaching our K-12 students as they began their distance learning journey through their virtual classrooms. Essentially, we grabbed hands and leapt together into a new world—one that needed us to feed one another’s minds and bodies.
As a school district, we were fortunate to have embraced already many of the components essential to virtual learning. Our ability to obtain enough Chromebooks to meet the need of elementary students and to acquire thousands of ‘hotspots’ for use by families without internet access, allowed us to transition fairly quickly and, despite some glitches, with relative ease.
Students have taken responsibility for managing their classwork, communicating with teachers, and staying engaged in learning. To date, our statistics show that 98% of students PreK-12 are attending Virtual Learning and making Weekly Phone Connections—an amazing number given the steep learning curve such a dramatic transition imposes. Because there still may be some students who have internet challenges, we do make printed learning packets available as well.
Teachers, working from home, prepared and pioneered new classroom teaching and learning strategies—while many were assisting their own children in the PreK-12 virtual learning adventure. Teachers are doing what they have to do to make virtual learning engaging. A Dance teacher at Veterans Park Academy for the Arts helped her students choreograph a handwashing dance, as seen in this news video clip: https://www.winknews.com/2020/04/10/dance-teacher-has-students-doing-handwashing-dance-to-spread-important-message-have-fun/. William Russell, teacher at Oak Hammock, is hosting Zoom classes sometimes as late as 8:00 p.m., to work around families’ schedules to ensure students can participate. And Lehigh families and guardians, juggling an uncertain work environment while being cast as learning managers and overseers, you are helping your children find their footing in this new world of virtual learning.
The District’s daily cafeteria breakfasts and lunches have now transitioned to Grab & Go meal pick-ups at many school sites and bus stops. Many of those participating in the program are Lehigh students. From March 23 through April 9, SDLC served 67,562 ‘Grab & Go’ meals to 26,935 children in the Lehigh area at the following locations: Gateway Elementary, Lehigh Elementary, Mirror Lakes Elementary, Sunshine Elementary, Tortuga Elementary, Veterans Park Academy for the Arts. Due to the continuous high demand, we recently added the school site Harns Marsh, in addition to bus stop pick-ups at the following locations: Richmond Ave N & Woodburn Dr /Windmere Dr, Williams Ave & W 5th ST, 5th ST E & Glendale Ave, Columbus Blvd & Sunrise Blvd, Columbus Blvd & Nimitz Blvd, 5146 Leonard Blvd – New Life Academy, Nobel Ave S & Lee St, Lee Cir S & Lee St. Grab n Go locations change weekly. The current information is located on the District’s website at: https://www.leeschools.net/meal_pick_up_sites.
As your District 7 School Board member, I believe the quality and depth of experience throughout the District, the commitment of each employee to making continuity of instruction and feeding of students a priority, and the camaraderie at a time of incredible stress and uncertainly, has made possible the best educational opportunities for your children. We—SDLC and our Lehigh families—are a learning community. We are in this together, watching one another’s backs and holding out hands when help is needed. For further information, please go on-line to: https://www.leeschools.net/distance_learning.