Tom Clowes is assistant principal at Westminster High School in Carroll County Public Schools, Westminster, Maryland, a school system of 40 schools serving approximately 25,000 students. Located approximately one hour northwest of Baltimore and an hour and 15 minutes north of Washington, D.C., the district is a mixture of small towns, suburbs, and rural areas. School is currently fully remote.
Tools being used
Google Classroom, Google Meet, Clever, Discovery Education, Nearpod, KAMI, Padlet
We see four big challenges:
1—Connectivity. With a large portion of the students attending CCPS living in rural areas, ensuring each student’s ability to access reliable internet service was critical.
2—Hardware. Prior to March 2020, the Carroll County Public Schools was not a 1:1 district. So, when Coronavirus sent students home, we needed to quickly figure out how to get a device into every student’s hand.
3—Tech support. With so many students using a vast array of devices and accessing the internet in multiple ways, providing technical support was an issue we needed to quickly address.
4—Making the jump to remote instruction. The need for digital resources and to increase student participation in virtual learning was very apparent as we suddenly moved to online instruction in the spring. Teachers were scrambling to take paper-and-pencil lessons and turn them into virtual lessons that featured student participation.
What are the advantages of teaching in this environment?
Since March, many paper-and-pencil workflows have transitioned to digital workflows, many processes have been automated, and many lessons have moved to the virtual world. Our district accelerated the plan to use Google Suite for Education and all our classes are taught in Google Classroom. The district also is moving to a Learning Management System (LMS) soon to continue to move us into the digital age. While we are still evolving into the digital world, great strides have been made to cross the digital divide.
How are teachers being supported?
To support educators during this time, the district’s IT team prepared a deep library of how-to guides on topics such as how to prepare technology for remote or hybrid learning, how to use browser extensions, and how to use Clever. In addition, the team also provided webinars on a variety of topics ranging from how to improve classroom inclusiveness to organizing virtual escape rooms, to managing and maximizing Google drives. Also, for teachers without devices dedicated to teaching, the CCPS Technology Services Department loaned out laptops that were from all parts of the school system.
How are you supporting your students?
For those students without reliable internet service, we reached out to Comcast and Verizon plus local community agencies to gather information on programs that help low-income families access internet services at a greatly reduced cost. Next, we reached out to community agencies, such as Carroll County Public Network and the Boys and Girls Club, who worked to improve Wifi access in easily accessible areas such as library parking lots. Finally, the district struck a partnership with Verizon and T-Mobile that made MIFI units available to families in rural areas unreached by internet service providers. To support students without devices, we scoured our buildings for available computers, loaning out every possible device to give students who did not have a device something to access learning.
How are you supporting your parents and families?
Parents are not a substitute for tech support, so our Technology Services Department set up a drive-through tech support service system that complimented our traditional tech support services. It helped solve many mundane issues that were preventing our students from learning, and in my mind, this was one of our most innovative responses to COVID-19. I have been running a drive-up, socially distant tech support program for months that has allowed students to come to the school grounds and get tech questions resolved.
One great side benefit of these services was that we were able to establish another connection to our students while they were learning virtually, which is helping to keep the district’s sense of community intact. In addition, the district created a special Family Support Portal that included resources for parents and caregivers on topics ranging from health and wellness to food security to child care and much, much more. Another benefit of this work has been to upskill our students, families, and teachers on a variety of tech-related topics.
Did anything unexpected happen (good or bad) during remote learning that can now be used as a teachable moment for others?
The accelerated development of teacher leaders that we’ve seen since we entered the COVID world. In every building across the CCPS, teachers have stepped up to help their peers and other staff members by providing one-on-one and virtual training, offering guidance and support, and sharing best practices. Personally, I’ve seen my own team come together in ways I could not have thought possible. While the immediate future looks somewhat cloudy, how I’ve seen the entire CCPS team come together to help one another and the students we serve flourish in this new way of learning gives me confidence that we can tackle anything that comes our way.
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