Decisions that the school system made several years ago are paying dividends now, including the investments to expand technology and WiFi capabilities, said Dr. James Smith, superintendent of Richmond County Public Schools.

Thanks to the 1-to-1 program, every child in the eighth through 12th grade has a laptop at home, and RCPS supplied mobile hotspots to provide internet access to those who didn’t have it. So, every high school student has the ability to participate in online virtual learning, Smith said during a presentation to the board of supervisors.

Students in grades five through seven have been working with paper packets that are delivered and picked up weekly, but this month, they will also be given the opportunity learn online. The laptops they used in their classrooms are being configured and will be sent out for at-home use, and the remaining hotspots will be distributed with priority determined by grade level. Any remaining students without internet access will be able to get service in the school parking lots. 

Students are already taking advantage of parking lot WiFi capability. RCPS is using as much or more broadband as at any other time, said Smith.

RCPS is also building out internet resources for students in kindergarten through fourth grade, giving them the option to continue using paper packets or work online. And the school system is trying to develop a program that involves recording lessons on MP3 players that’ll be distributed and returned during meal deliveries. The administration hopes to launch that program by the end of the month.

Adapting to distant learning

“Even though we’re not in school, we’re engaging students every single day. And that’s the goal we’ve set for our school system,” said Smith. 

Educators are connecting with their students and providing lessons and demonstrations on platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. 

There are daily readings, and WRAR 105.5 broadcasts a daily challenge that offers students prizes. 

RCPS is arranging access to outside educational resources, such as using Kahn Academy for math content and PBS for its broadcast classroom. Virtual Virginia has included RCPS in a lot of different lesson plans, and the entire K -12 curriculum, which was for purchase, is now available to RCPS for free.

At all grade levels, there are learning sites available and new material and ideas are introduced daily. Plus there’s more on the way, said Smith. 

He commended the teaching staff for their “tremendous amount of creativity.” 

Smith assured the board that the school system isn’t just tossing material at students and hoping for the best. Teachers are required to have office hours Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. to ensure parents have access to them, and the schools are monitoring students activity. 

“We have the ability to track access to our content,” he said. “So if we see families are not accessing it and using it, we’re calling them to see what we can do. We want students to keep up and competently transition to the next grade level.” Smith said.

Food program proving successful

RCSP cut its meal deliveries to two trips a week, aiming to be more efficient and help reduce staff to exposure to the coronavirus. But the school system hasn’t scaled back the provisions. About 500 students are being fed, and since they receive enough food for several days, the school system is cranking out about 3,000 meals per trip. 

Smith said the program is operating well and is very successful. He praised both the bus and cafeteria staff for doing an excellent job. And he also added that no one in the school system has been laid off because there’s still a role for everyone.

Any students who would like to start receiving meals can do so without signing up. All that’s required is for a member of the household to meet the bus at a stop.

Additionally, for those students who left belongings in the school, the principals have designated pick-up schedules to retrieve those items.

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