Los Angeles Unified School District announced on Monday that they are investing $100 million to provide students with necessary online tools and technology during the COVID-19 pandemic. An estimated 350,000 students are connecting online each day, according to data given at the LAUSD press conference this morning, 16% more students than were connecting last week.
According to LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, some of these funds will go towards rebuilding online platforms such as Schoology, which cannot currently support 500,000 concurrent users, while other funds will go towards creating a partnership with a wireless company to ensure every student has internet connection regardless of their situation.
“Even in the best of times, launching an online learning program in the nation’s second largest school district would be a monumental task akin to landing on the moon. It would take years of careful planning, investment, training and engagement with the entire school community,” Beutner explained. “LAUSD will be trying to do this in a matter of weeks, because students most in need are counting on us.”
Although these efforts will take some time, the hope is that eventually LAUSD will be able to connect students in the foster care system, students who are homeless, non-English speaking students and students who simply do not have access to the internet to the rest of their peers.
Speak UP, a grassroots organization of parent advocates, is stepping up their outreach to assist LAUSD reach their goal of connecting every single student. Speak UP launched an iFamily program to train families in technologies such as Zoom, Schoology and Google Classroom. They are also in the process of launching iTutors, which will connect students in need of tutoring with volunteer tutors.
“We’re a grassroots organization and we’re basically adapting everything we’re doing to meet the direct needs of these families during this crisis,” Jenny Hontz, Speak UP’s communications director, shared. “We’re finding out what their needs are and doing the best to meet them whether it's providing financial assistance, headsets, or connecting them to other resources available.”
Last week, Speak UP received a donation of headsets from famous rapper Andre Young, known professionally as Dr. Dre. The headsets are intended for students with multiple siblings who need privacy whilst doing schoolwork. OneFamilyLA, a collaboration between over 20 nonprofit organizations, is also raising money to provide direct financial assistance to LAUSD families.
Families are not the only ones in need of assistance. Many teachers are unfamiliar with new online platforms and must learn to use the new technology before they can teach their students. This has caused inconsistency in teaching between different schools, according to Hontz.
“Each teacher starts from a different place and we’ll need to be patient and flexible as we provide professional development,” Beutner said. “This will also need to be balanced with the demands on teachers of continuing to work with students and taking care of their own families.”
LAUSD is offering a selection of online courses that can help teachers adapt their lessons to better serve students online. They are also working to foster better collaboration between different schools so that teachers can learn from each other and share lesson plans.
Even though LAUSD is being forced to adapt to online learning and improve their technological platforms, Beutner described how “it is more difficult to measure engagement and progress remotely.” He shared some experiences from teachers who have taken the initiative to be more creative with their teaching.
While LAUSD teachers miss being in the classroom with their students, some teachers have chosen to look for a silver lining during this difficult time.
“Just so you know, the love and the care of being in a classroom is a whole different aspect,” french teacher Viviane Shedeed shared. “But it’s amazing how much we are surrounded by a multitude of great technology resources out there to make our teaching even easier, maybe not easier but creative, exciting, and interesting for our students.”