CAMDEN, NJ — Over a month of learning from a screen that can fit in the palm of your hand is not easy. Just ask Camden student Luis Echevarria.
Flipping through apps. Squinting at a Google doc, then Google Classroom and back. Constant-use draining the battery.
“To be honest it was frustrating a lot of the time,” Echevarria, 17, told TAPinto Camden. “There was also having to wait a certain period of time to get an answer. In class, I could just raise my hand.”
Echevarria — an aspiring politician who is fond of photography — was one of over 1,500 high school students to receive a Chromebook laptop this week, with another 3,330 set to be distributed in the next couple of weeks to K-8 students.
Even though Superintendent Katrina McCombs lauded school leaders in helping to improve the access to technology and internet this week to students, she said over the phone that the district is not nearly done in making preparations for what the future may hold.
“While we’re waiting for the governor to give a final decision over when we can transition back [into school buildings], whether that’s before the school year ends or later on, we know one of the biggest things we’re planning for is an academic slide,” McCombs said. “We’ll be looking to reinforce some skills that may have slipped during this time period.”
The superintendent said the district will also explore ways to extend education before or after school if possible.
As for the logistics — classrooms that follow “social distancing” and what school buses might look like — McCombs said that and more is being discussed county and statewide among school leaders.
“We’re making sure we purchase enough PPE [personal protective equipment], for instance, such as masks and gloves, so if the governor says when students come back everyone needs to have gloves, we have enough.”
Echevarria concurs, saying he believes a vaccine would have to be made available to assure that students are fully out of harm’s way.
When the outbreak was in its earlier stages, he said a simple trip to Cherry Hill for household needs became nerve-wracking.
“I was with my dad and mom at Wal-Mart getting some last minute things and I saw it was starting to get packed...I did start to feel nervous,” he said.
For now, the Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy sophomore says he’s happy to have received a Chromebook — which he picked up Friday.
He said virtual learning would improve with “more virtual face-to-face” conversations over video conference.”
McCombs said as well as technology, food access and keeping staff connected during the pandemic have been the highest on the district’s agenda.
The superintendent also estimated that some students, less than 1 percent, have been harder to maintain contact with.
Because of remote learning, it has become more difficult to provide such programs as guidance counseling. she said.
Still, for students who were either already on a trajectory to fail or began a downward trend once the outbreak began to impact everyday functions, additional considerations will be taken.
“We don’t want to weaponize grading right now,” said McCombs. “The pandemic has impacted everyone in so many different ways, whether it’s made a loved one sick, or they themselves haven’t felt well. We have been a bit more lenient, and continue to evaluate the best way we can be fair to everyone.”