2020-2021 School Year Kicks Off With Virtual Learning
Texas’ Arlington Independent School District will implement a new online program to help students in grades 8-12 prepare for college and career success. The Xello program provides students with a personalized account they can use to explore careers and post-secondary options; helps the district track, report and measure a student’s progress; and allows teachers and parents to log into the platform to help students.
Buffalo Public Schools created a new Center for Innovation, Technology and Training, housed in a former school, where parents can pick up devices and request hotspots for internet access to prepare students for remote learning in the 2020-2021 school year. The Center offers online technology sessions with translators in seven languages and uses summer interns from the district’s Student Technology Leadership Program to clean and repair devices and distribute them to families.
As a result of a tax referendum voters approved in 2014, the Charleston County School District is opening the C.E. Williams Middle School, a two-story 137,227-square foot building with multiple technology centered classrooms and computer labs that will serve 900 students.
The nation’s third largest school district embarked on a large outreach effort to help families prepare to start the school year remotely, including calling nearly 21,000 families and launching cps.edu/reopening2020 — a new parent resource that centralizes important information related to the upcoming school year. Also, 97.5 percent of seniors at district high schools submitted a concrete post-secondary plan as part of Learn.Plan.Succeed. (LPS), an initiative to ensure students develop plans for life after graduation with the support of dedicated staff. Launched in 2017, the Class of 2020 is the first group of students who were required to submit a post-secondary plan in 12th grade as part of a graduation requirement.
Cincinnati Public Schools expanded two programs aimed at making sure all students had computers and internet access to do schoolwork at home for the new school year. A program that distributed iPads and laptops for students in grades 2-12 expanded to give iPads to preschool students, kindgergartners and first-graders. The Connect Our Students program with Cincinnati Bell, which in July began providing free internet for students in five schools, has expanded to include all district schools.
In an effort to provide students with behavioral/mental health resources, Ohio’s Dayton Public Schools is implementing a Student Resiliency Coordinator (SRC) initiative in all 26 schools. The district partnered with Dayton Children’s Hospital to provide SRCs in each school building, which will coordinate the counseling services students need based on their specific circumstances and be responsible for ensuring goals and metrics are set for each student and that progress is made toward meeting those goals.
Denver Public Schools is devoting a minimum of 20 minutes each day to social-emotional learning in elementary schools and 30 minutes daily in middle and high schools to improve student’s school experience in a virtual environment. This will include teaching specific social-emotional skills, such as relationship-building, reflecting on identity, discussing differences, including biases, and developing student confidence and independent-thinking skills.
District of Columbia Public Schools
The District of Columbia Public Schools is implementing DCPS Persists, a program that will provide students a support network after they graduate. Starting with the Class of 2020, 750 college-bound district graduates will be able to get connected to a DCPS Persists coach to help them navigate the transition to college. Coaches will assist students with academic, financial, and other resources available on their college campus and will also support and check in with students regularly throughout the first two years of their college experience.
North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools in Greensboro over the summer recorded more than 700 lessons with its most effective teachers to be used in the first three weeks of instruction. The professionally produced videos allowed teachers and families transition time to virtual learning before live-instruction begins. The district also opened 23 learning centers in district schools for students who lack internet access and rolled out 125 smart buses equipped with hotspot technology that go into communities where students lack internet connectivity.
Florida’s Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa is launching a new program at two high schools to prepare students for careers in mental health services, including positions such as psychologists, social workers and guidance counselors. According to district officials, the program is the first-in-the-nation mental health career track for high school students and will offer students internships and the opportunity to learn from local mental health partners.
Houston Independent School District teamed up with the Houston Texans football team and a local energy company to encourage attendance in virtual learning through the “Attend to Win” initiative. Throughout the fall semester, students and classrooms will receive inspiring messages from Texans players and celebrities through public service announcements, and students and classrooms with outstanding attendance in virtual learning can win special prizes such as signed footballs, jerseys and backpacks.
Indianapolis Public Schools is partnering with a local technology company to launch the #CSforIPS initiative to provide students with the opportunity to learn to code. The initiative will begin with a cohort of 25 K–8 schools and 50 Computer Science Champions to coach classroom teachers on how to incorporate computer science into classroom instruction and each school building will create and implement a plan.
Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Ky., opened the Grace James Academy of Excellence aimed at empowering middle school girls through an Afrocentric and gender specific Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) curriculum. The all-girls school opened with its first class of 150 sixth grade girls and district leaders hope the school, named after Dr. Grace Marilynn James, a groundbreaking physician who was the first Black woman on the University of Louisville School of Medicine's faculty, will eventually transition into a full middle school serving 450 students.
Kansas City Public Schools is partnering with a local health company to provide students and families with free virtual mental health services by offering the Thera-Link® app, which gives users access to wellness checks and social-emotional support and services by secure video. As part of the program, school counselors will contact each family for a whole child wellness check-in. The school system is also partnering with the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City to provide high-quality, school-age childcare free-of-charge for students in grades K-6 on weekdays that will include transportation, meals and daily instructional time.
The Los Angeles Unified School District is piloting a free, one-on-one in person and online tutoring program for low-performing students in three schools that will serve 500 students as part of a partnership with Step Up Tutoring, a non profit organization. Carefully screened Step Up Tutoring volunteers from across the country will provide K-8 students with supplemental, individualized assistance outside of the regular school day and the district will eventually expand the program to more schools.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools is partnering with the Miami Marlins baseball team and the Positive Coaching Alliance to provide student-athletes with emotional and mental health support. The M-DCPS Great Minds – Great Athletes Program will provide socio-emotional learning education and curriculum, coaches' assessments, workbooks and online courses to more than 1,800 student-athletes at 18 schools. District officials hope the program will shape a positive athletics culture and improve the mental wellness of student-athletes.
Milwaukee Public Schools is partnering with the Verizon Innovative Learning program to implement a technology-driven curriculum for approximately 2,300 6th- through 8th-grade students at five district schools. Under the partnership, Chromebooks and free internet access will be given to every student and a technology coach will be provided at each school.
New Jersey’s Newark Public Schools starts the 2020-2021 school year with 89 new curriculum documents and 22 new courses of study focused on providing rigorous instruction to students. The district also released its 10-year strategic plan, The Next Decade: 2020-30, which marks the beginning of full local control. The district also opened two new schools, including the Newark School of Global Studies, the first school in the district to offer four years of Arabic and Chinese.
New York City
The nation’s largest school system partnered with local city agencies to launch a COVID-19 Response Situation Room to facilitate a rapid response to positive COVID-19 cases in schools. The Situation Room was created to provide a single point-of-contact between schools and agency partners, such as the Department of Health and Mental Health, that are responsible for performing both testing and contract tracing and will also provide a direct hotline for principals, be available six days a week, and provide daily public reporting on COVID-19 cases.
Florida’s Orange County Public Schools in Orlando opened three new elementary schools to relieve overcrowding: Summerlake, Sunshine, and Vista Pointe Elementary Schools. Since 2003, the district has opened 56 new schools to accommodate growth and relieve overcrowding.
The School District of Philadelphia is launching the Equity Coalition, an initiative designed to provide the organizational structure and guidance needed to establish more equity for students and staff. Made up of 17 district staff members representing central office staff, school leaders, teachers and support staff, the Equity Coalition will be responsible for reviewing and revising policies that may have led to inequities for students as well as staff.
Pinellas County Schools
Florida’s Pinellas County Schools launched PCS Connects, a new initiative that will provide a laptop computer to all students in grades 1-12 by 2023 and students in grades 4-9 will be provided Dell touch screen laptops. The district is also offering Pre-AP World History and Geography at 11 middle schools, a new Pre-Advanced Placement Art course at five middle schools and is adding a College & Career Planning Center at four high schools.
California’s Santa Ana Unified School District is sending “WiFi on Wheels” vehicles to provide internet access to students in neighborhoods that lack access and will remain parked for the entire day to ensure students stay connected until instruction ends for the day. The WiFi vans and buses are equipped with wireless routers that can provide service for as many as 200 students and district officials estimate that as many as 150 buses and vans will be available to travel across the district.
Seattle Public Schools will focus on providing social and emotional learning (SEL) to students by providing 20 SEL lessons adapted for remote learning and to ensure anti-racist practices to all pre-K through 12th grade teachers. Also, more than 500 staff, educators and community members this summer participated in the district’s Liberation Through Anti-Racist Education Institute. Hosted by the district’s Department of Racial Equity Advancement, the four-day virtual institute focused on transforming the Seattle school system into an anti-racist organization.
Canada’s Toronto District School Board launched a new online app to help high school students stay connected and organized. Once a student logs into the app with their school ID, their timetable is automatically populated and they will have access to school announcements, updates, local calendars and more.
High school students in Oklahoma’s Tulsa Public Schools can ride the city bus free of charge, seven days a week as part of an expansion of TPS Rides, a program offered in partnership with Tulsa Transit in 2016 that allowed students to ride the bus free on weekdays. The district is also conducting a weekly social media segment called Safety with Sue Ann–offered in English and Spanish. The weekly segments are broadcast on the district’s Facebook page and features interviews with Facilities Director Sue Ann Bell who discusses health and safety topics such as buses, signage, hand sanitizing stations and cleaning.
Wichita Public Schools opened three Family Help Centers to provide extra support for families as the new school year started. The Family Help Centers provide in-person support for families in three areas: technology support, counseling and bi-lingual language support with Spanish and Vietnamese interpreters available to answer questions.