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City School District Unveils Creative Remote Learning Plan That Depends On Backordered Computers

Craig Mitchelldyer
In this Tuesday, March 17, 2020 photo Keith Bucks, works at home remotely during an online class assignment from his first grade class at Arco Iris Spanish Immersion School in Beaverton, Ore.

Central office staff for the state’s second largest school district outlined a comprehensive plan for remote learning Tuesday, a plan that requires nearly 19,000 computers and tablets that the district doesn't have on hand yet.

Last week, Pittsburgh Public Schools said that nearly three-fourths of the devices it has purchased for students since schools closed in March are back ordered. Some may not arrive until mid-October.

Districts across the country are making similar purchases as more have chosen to postpone in-person instruction. Also on Tuesday, the PPS board approved the $4.2 million purchase of 7,000 computers. With those devices, the backordered ones and the ones on hand, the district will achieve "one-to-one" device distribution, which means enough devices for every student and teacher in the district.

The district is hosting a series of webinars for families with questions about remote learning this month. The first session is on technology; other sessions will cover early learning, supporting English Language Learners and students with disabilities, athletics and accessing healthy food during remote learning.

Credit Pittsburgh Public Schools
Pittsburgh Public Schools

Chief Academic Officer Minika Jenkins said that the biggest change this fall will be live instruction, which is a change from the spring.

“That is five days a week, Monday through Friday. So students will be accessing live instruction ... with their teachers every day,” she said.

Jenkins' team outlined how teachers can group students using the district's learning management software for projects. Physical education teachers are planning live demonstrations to get kids moving at home. Career and technical education teachers are working on virtual field trips and bringing in industry speakers. 

In the spring the district disabled cameras on district-issued devices for privacy concerns. Now, when families pick up a computer or tablet they will have to sign a form acknowledging that the camera is enabled and will be used in their home. Chief Accountability Officer Ted Dwyer said all devices must be returned and exchanged this month so that students have updated devices with cameras enabled.  

Credit Pittsburgh Public Schools
Pittsburgh Public Schools

Jenkins said in the spring, the district didn't have time to properly train teachers on how to shift to remote learning. This year, teachers will get a full week of training. They will then spend time training students before jumping into content.

“We want them to be very comfortable using a new learning management system. We want them to feel comfortable with knowing where to find their homework assignments, where to submit the assignments,” she said.

Sarah Schneider is WESA's education reporter. From early learning to higher education, Sarah is interested in students and educators working to create more equitable systems. Sarah previously worked with news outlets in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Idaho. She is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale where she worked for the school newspaper, the Daily Egyptian.
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