Baldwin Community Schools will continue with remote instruction and learning through at least January 15, 2021. At its regularly scheduled Board Meeting Tuesday, the Board of Education voted to continue with remote learning.
The District began the school year with remote teaching and learning on August 24. Students have been attending virtual classes and/or checking in with teachers regularly since then. Students are receiving instruction through Google Classroom, using Google Meet, and through the creative exchange of flash drives and paper packets between students and the school.
“It’s not ‘education as usual,’” Baldwin Elementary School Principal Bruce Mangum said. “Our students aren’t learning in the traditional classroom, but they are meeting in Google Meets and learning through the Google Classroom platform.”
Superintendent Rick Heitmeyer said that the District would like to be in face-to-face learning, but he is concerned about the timing.
“We are watching the Covid-19 numbers not only in Lake County, but in nearby counties, go up. We are seeing many schools have to cancel classes for a day, two days, or two weeks. We believe the frequent starts and stops will be less effective for students than continuing in a remote environment,” Heitmeyer said.
Covid-19 case numbers jumped nearly 40% in Lake County since last week, going from 40 cases to 55.
“The Covid-19 numbers are still low in the county,” Heitmeyer said, “but the sudden jump is concerning.”
The District has also ordered 100 Verizon MiFi devices to try to close the connectivity (Internet access) gap. Some families currently do not have access to the Internet and are having to drive to an Internet hotspot so they can download and upload assignments or attend a class. The plan is to begin distributing those to the families who have indicated they need the Internet.
Jr/Sr High School Principal Garth Cornwell says that the District is finding success, but hoping to do more about the connectivity issues.
“At Baldwin Jr/Sr High School we have seen success with remote learning. However, we know that connectivity has been a barrier to some of our students. While we are providing asynchronous (off line) materials for those students, we want all of our students to have access to teachers and their lessons. Our hope is that with the new MiFi devices and a few community hotspots, that are soon to be up and available we can close this connectivity gap and provide a better experience for all of our students,” Cornwell said.
Board President Shawn Washington agreed.
“We are hoping to close the Internet gap,” Washington said. “We know that there are areas that the MiFis might not solve the problem right away but it creates an opportunity for our students to logon to their classes.”
In a survey, more than 50% of families expressed frustration with their access to the Internet.
“In remote learning, access is a key,” Washington added.
The District will also continue to deliver meals to families who have signed up through the food service department. In addition, BCS will continue to provide tech support, provide access to additional materials and supplies, and try to make this as close to traditional education as possible.
Heitmeyer said, “We understand that continuing with remote learning might create additional hardships for families. But we believe that if we provide consistent instruction and avoid interruptions to learning, that our students are going to be better off. Believe me, this is not easy for anyone involved.”
Baldwin Community Schools have many partners, including Baldwin Family Health Care, CMH, and DHHS. If families are experiencing non-academic struggles, they are encouraged to call the school offices to talk with someone who can assist with making contact with additional supports.
Washington said that the community raises the children together, and this is the time for everyone in the community to work together to support each other.
Heitmeyer added that safety is a primary concern for the district. He highlighted the need to keep students, staff, and families safe in these uncertain times. He also stated that he thinks that the skills that both teachers and students are learning in the virtual world are ones that can continue when BCS returns to face-to-face learning.
“If we don’t learn from this and do things differently in the future, we are not doing our jobs,” he said.