APS maps out and addresses challenges as virtual classes near

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AURORA | Even without the classrooms, class in Aurora Public Schools may feel somewhat familiar for students when most kids sign in from home for the 2020-2021 school year on Aug. 18. 

Last month, the school district Board of Education members directed the school system to reverse course on opening its doors and shift to an online format until at least Oct. 8 because of pandemic figures.

District chiefs gave school board members and the public more information during a board meeting Tuesday night while acknowledging challenges in keeping kids learning and engaged. Students will be on the hook for schoolwork and attendance requirements, but they’ll also keep access to special education programs, classes for English language learners and even college counseling advice. 

“There is no doubt that it will exacerbate existing inequities in our society,” Superintendent Rico Munn said generally of nationwide remote learning plans. Still, Munn defended the district’s preparations as “solid.”

Kids will be signing into specific classes at specific times with their classmates on virtual platforms. 

In a schedule example, an elementary school student would begin their day at 8 a.m.,  tuning in online to a “circle” time for social and emotional learning before settling in for class. 

Next would be a “block” period for academic learning and an elective class before a recess and lunch break from 10:45 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. Then, the student would sit in two academic block periods until their day ended at 2:30 p.m. 

Students will also be given assignments to work on separately, outside of the class times, under the district plans. 

In this environment, it’s a top district priority to keep kids from dropping out while schools remain closed. 

To that end, central learning community director Carole Jennings said assistant principals, deans and counselors won’t be visiting homes to rope kids back in to schoolwork, but they will be calling homes. She said the goal will be “tracking all students down.” 

Students will also have their own incentives to tune in: grades. 

Kids in all APS grade levels will graded once again while learning from home in the district plans. Teachers will also take attendance during virtual classes and measure engagement in other ways, said Starla Pearson, executive director of curriculum and instruction. For high school students, work during this time will become part of official transcripts influencing graduation and post-high school success.

The district is also fixing damaged laptops handed out to students last spring as part of a massive effort to get tech access in all households — a requisite measure for students to now take part in school. 

Chief Information Officer Jeff Konishi said about 600 Chromebooks were damaged over the summer, but that the district already repaired over half of those. School staff will be handing out more of the small laptops en masse this month at school-run hand-out events.  

The goal, Konishi said, is that every student will have a device of their own when school starts in the coming weeks. The district is also connecting low-income families with lower-cost internet services. 

District leaders also assured the school board that special programming for students with disabilities, called Individualized Education Programs, are slated to continue in the coming weeks per federal law. If all goes to plan, so will English Language Development classes and mental health supports for students identified to need them.